Validity Of Utah Same-Sex Marriages Questioned, Will Likely Require Litigation

UtahThe window for same-sex marriages in Utah was short, and the aftermath may not be so sweet. Now that the Supreme Court has granted a stay on marriage licenses for same-sex couples until the case can be appealed, Utahns who got married between December 20th and the beginning of the new year are in limbo. Many legal experts are floating questions about the marriages' continued validity.

What does seem clear is that the issue will likely require litigation outside of the appeal process for the original lawsuit, Kitchen V. Herbert, which inspired District Judge Robert Shelby to strike down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage. When legal action will occur, and what its outcome may be, are of course in question as well.

The Washington Blade reports:

Now that the stay is in place, the attorney general’s office itself has expressed uncertainty about whether the marriages performed in the state will be considered valid. In a statement, [Attorney General Sean] Reyes (below and right) cited a lack of precedent on the issue.

Seanreyes“This is the uncertainty that we were trying to avoid by asking the District court for a stay immediately after its decision,” Reyes said. “It is very unfortunate that so many Utah citizens have been put into this legal limbo. Utah’s Office of Attorney General is carefully evaluating the legal status of the marriages that were performed since the District Court’s decision and will not rush to a decision that impacts Utah citizens so personally.”

Although Reyes maintains he won’t rush into a decision, pressure will be on the state to decide soon. Now that 2014 has begun, gay couples that recently married in Utah will be filing their taxes and will need to know whether they qualify as married or single.

EqualityutahThere are several possible scenarios. One may find gay Utahns in the same boat as San Franciscans who married under mayor Gavin Newsom only to have their legal unions invalidated; another, straight out of California, could see the marriages remain valid, as they did after California citizens voted to approve Prop 8 in 2009. Yet another possibility may find same-sex marriages in Utah receiving federal recognition even while Utah does not recognize them. Opinions differ, though, and it is unclear how smoothly further action will occur. 

Several people, including Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Suzanne Goldberg, the co-director of Columbia University's Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, agree that the marriages were valid when entered, and that should improve their chances of remaining valid under federal and state scrutiny.

“The federal government should recognize them for most purposes because federal recognition for almost all federal benefits hinges only on whether a marriage was valid when entered,” Minter said…

“It is unlikely that the marriages already performed in Utah will be invalidated,” Goldberg said. “Those marriages were performed in accordance with Utah law and a later change in the law, if there is one, should not undo them.”