A federal judge ordered the state today to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who were legally married in Utah after a federal court struck down a state ban, but before the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted additional marriages from taking place. Over 1,000 same-sex couples married in Utah during that time period. The couples are represented by American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Utah, and Strindberg & Scholnick, LLC, who sought the preliminary injunction for the marriages to be recognized while their lawsuit continues.
“Our clients, like over 1,000 other same-sex couples, were legally married and those marriages cannot now be taken away from them,” said John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah. “While we await a permanent decision, we are relieved that our clients will receive the full recognition they deserve as lawfully married couples.”
Today’s preliminary injunction is not a permanent order, but it reflects the court’s determination that the plaintiffs’ are likely to prevail on their legal claims and would suffer irreparable harm if their marriages were stripped of recognition. Today’s order was given a 21-day stay to allow the state to respond.
In his ruling, Judge Dale A. Kimball wrote: “The State has placed Plaintiffs and their families in a state of legal limbo with respect to adoptions, child care and custody, medical decisions, employment and health benefits, future tax implications, inheritance, and many other property and fundamental rights associated with marriage. These legal uncertainties and lost rights cause harm each day that the marriage is not recognized.”
Kimball also noted that the marriages cannot be made illegal retroactively, despite a U.S. Supreme Court stay that halted same-sex weddings. “Even though the Supreme Court’s Stay Order put Utah’s marriage bans back into place, to retroactively apply the bans to existing marriages, the State must demonstrate some state interest in divesting Plaintiff’s of their already vested marriage rights. The State has failed to do so.”
“We are grateful that the court has stepped in to prevent the state from stripping recognition from legally valid marriages that have already taken place,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “The court’s decision allows these committed couples to move forward with their lives with the same protections and security as any other married couples.”
The lawsuit is separate from the original federal case challenging Utah’s marriage ban, which is on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. That case was brought by the law firm of Magleby & Greenwood on behalf of three other couples. The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in that case.