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Only one county in Utah is not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples

LGBT Legal Cases Marriage equality Marriage Equality Trials

After the federal district court decision striking down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban was handed down on Friday, several counties refused to comply. Four counties remained holdouts going into the holidays, and as EqualityOnTrial noted, at least one county faced a lawsuit for its refusal to issue licenses to same-sex couples. Some counties cited a need for further guidance from the state while others simply had allowed their clerks to go on vacation for the holidays.

Then, on December 24, the Utah Attorney General’s office announced that while he was not specifically advising county clerks at the time, refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was a violation of the law:

The law now requires Utah counties to marry same-sex couples, the Utah attorney general’s office said Tuesday, but officials in some jurisdictions continued to flout the new status quo.

Though the attorney general’s office wasn’t specifically advising county clerks on Christmas Eve, spokesman Ryan Bruckman pointed out that U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby “has put out his ruling that anyone who denies a marriage license [could be] in contempt of the court and in contempt of the law.”

“According to that,” Bruckman said, “everyone should be [issuing licenses].”

Utah’s governor also sent a letter confirming that counties have to comply with the federal courts:

To deal with the confusion, the Governor sent out a letter to his cabinet which said in part:

“For those agencies that now face conflicting laws either in statue or administrative rule, you should consult with the Assistant Attorney Generals assigned to your agency on the best course to resolve those conflicts. You should also advice your analyst in GOMB of the plans for addressing the conflicting laws.

Where no conflicting laws exist you should conduct business in compliance with the federal judge’s ruling…”

Utah County and other holdouts have announced their intention to begin allowing same-sex couples to receive marriage licenses, leaving only one county still refusing to comply:

Officials in three counties who held out on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples even after a judge overturned a ban say they will now offer licenses to all eligible applicants.

That means only one county, Piute, has not issued the licenses or announced plans to following U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling that struck down Utah’s voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan E. Thompson issued a statement Thursday morning noting that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion Tuesday to stay Judge Shelby’s ruling.

“Based upon that motion and upon receipt of the further clarifications I was seeking, the Utah County Clerk’s Office will issue marriage licenses to all eligible applicants,” Thompson wrote.

Some mixed reports are going around, but some suggest the holdout county, Piute County, has a clerk who is on vacation and unable to hand marriage licenses. According to the above linked article, the AG has said any county still refusing to comply is in contempt of court.

The state is expected to ask Justice Sotomayor for a stay, although the Attorney General’s office is now saying that they won’t file their request for a few days. The statement is here. h/t SCOTUSBlog

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20 Comments

  • 1. bayareajohn  |  December 26, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Note that Piute County has only 500 households altogether, spread across 6 towns in total in the 766 square miles of the county. Entirely likely that there's limited staff.

  • 2. mtnbill  |  December 26, 2013 at 10:55 am

    In a post on an earlier topic, one posted stated the county commissioner had tweeted to a TV station as stating that no permits (either straight or gay) were being issued since the clerk was on preplanned vacation and that the county only issues 3 permits a year. If you want a permit you have to get it when the clerk in in the office.

  • 3. Eric Koszyk  |  December 26, 2013 at 11:09 am

    What does it mean when the Utah AG says they are consulting "outside counsel"?
    Could that mean outside groups auch as NOM?

  • 4. palerobber  |  December 26, 2013 at 11:20 am

    here is that tweet from Commissioner Darin Bushman:
    "Yes, Piute County will issue Same Sex Marriage licenses if somebody wants one, once our Clerk returns from vacation #utpol" https://twitter.com/darinbushman/status/416258189

  • 5. Karl Stock  |  December 26, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Eric, my guess is the AGs in the other 10th circuit states, many of which are also very conservative, and may be wanting to strategize how they handle the appeals process, since the outcome could potentially affect all the states in the 10th Circuit.

    As for Piute County not being able to comply until "the Clerk" returns from vacation – there really is only one person in the whole county government with authority to issue licenses? If they're that small and understaffed, maybe they should consider combining with, or at least sharing services with, one of the six neighboring counties…?

  • 6. Bruno71  |  December 26, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Could be any legal counsel outside the AG's office. Some have suggested that since the AG is brand new, he may not yet be in a credentialed position to bring the question forward to Sotomayor. Most seem to believe they're trying to put a little more effort and brainpower into this one than they have this past week regarding their other requests.

  • 7. Randolph Finder  |  December 26, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    The County Clerk is also the County Auditor and there are several other combined jobs. http://www.piutecounty.org/council.html

  • 8. Randolph Finder  |  December 26, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    They do share services, if the County Clerk's office is closed, you can go to a neighboring county for a Marriage License. And as otherwise indicated, they get three marriage license issues a year. If the decision from the Federal Judge had come down two weeks earlier or later, we wouldn't even have heard about this and I think the county just feels that it is in over its head (these would be the type of counties that just call the Utah AG office and go "what do we do?"

  • 9. Dr. Z  |  December 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    It could also mean BYU.

  • 10. Dr. Z  |  December 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Re Piute County, this section of central Utah is so underpopulated there were no major roads until I-70 was built in the 1950s. It has the longest stretch of road in the US with no vehicle services – 110 miles.

  • 11. Chris M.  |  December 26, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    Or bringing in the big guns, like Paul Clement. And told them that he doesn't want to sacrifice his holiday break for this, so they have to wait a few more days.

  • 12. StraightDave  |  December 26, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Big guns are useless if there's no ammunition for them. They're just a big hollow tube that, at worst, makes a lot of noise.

  • 13. akconstant  |  December 26, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    My guess is the former Alliance Defense Fund (now known as Alliance Defending Freedom)

  • 14. Frisky1  |  December 26, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    "The state is expected to ask Justice Sotomayor for a stay, although the Attorney General’s office is now saying that they won’t file their request for a few days."

    A few days? Don't they realize every time a gay couple gets married, a kitten dies?

  • 15. sfbob  |  December 26, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    No, not a kitten. A puppy. Puppies are traditional and therefore anti-gay; kittens are the opposite.

  • 16. Chris M.  |  December 26, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    The worst that's going to happen are some soiled magic undies. In balancing this with the joy of the now married couples, I'm sure what the proper trade off is. And cue some schadenfreude about the payback for Prop 8 here – I can't even say that I'm ashamed about it.

  • 17. Chuck in PA  |  December 26, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    From my experience every time a gay couple gets married or just decides to live together, a puppy or a kitten gets adopted.

  • 18. Chris M.  |  December 26, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    You are so right about this. When my now-ex moved in with me, he brought a cat with him. And within weeks, we decided to adopt a kitten as company for her.

  • 19. JamesInCA  |  December 26, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    I've come by four cats and two dogs this way, and I'm not even a lesbian.

  • 20. StraightDave  |  December 26, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    … gets adopted.

    Not to mention a human child here and there.

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