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HRC urges feds to recognize Utah same-sex couples’ marriages

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Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT advocacy group in the U.S., asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice yesterday to recognize the over 1,300 marriages that were performed in the state between December 20 and January 6.  From the group’s letter, penned by HRC President Chad Griffin:

There is no legal reason to question the validity of these more than 1,300 marriages.  Each was legally performed by a clerk representing the State of Utah, in accordance with the state’s statutes and constitution. Even the office of the governor of Utah—whose formal political position is one of opposition to marriage equality—urged state agencies to extend state marriage recognition to these couples during that 20 day period when same-sex marriages were being performed.  Even though the governor’s office has now made a political decision to cut off this recognition, it continues to insist that it makes no pronouncement about the validity of these unions.

Given this landscape of facts, there is simply no reason for the United States government not to extend federal recognition to these more than 1,300 couples.

According to Metro Weekly, Griffin also wrote to the attorneys general of the 18 marriage equality states, asking them to recognize same-sex couples’ marriage licenses as well:

Should any of these couples be residents of, travel through, or relocate to your state, there is simply no reason to treat their marriage differently from any other, and I urge you to issue an advisory opinion declaring that treating all legally-conferred marriages consistently as a matter of equal protection and basic justice is consistent with the public policy of your state.

The legal position of those 1,300+ marriages can really only be described as muddled at this point.  Wednesday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wrote that the marriages are now “on hold” pending resolution of the case in the Tenth Circuit.  “Please understand this position is not intended to comment on the legal status of those same-sex marriages – that is for the courts to decide,” Herbert wrote in his directive.  “The intent of this communication is to direct state agency compliance with current laws that prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages.”

But yesterday, the Utah attorney general’s office instructed state officials to provide marriage certificates to same-sex couples if their marriages were solemnized before the Supreme Court stay:

Although the State of Utah cannot currently legally recognize marriages other than those between a man and a woman, marriages between persons of the same sex were recognized in the state of Utah between the dates of December 20, 2013 until the stay on January 6, 2014. Based on our analysis of Utah law, the marriages were recognized at the time the ceremony was completed.

While the validity of the marriages in question must ultimately be decided by the legal appeals process presently working its way through the courts, the act of completing and providing a marriage certificate for all couples whose marriage was performed prior to the morning of January 6, 2014, is administrative and consistent with Utah law. Therefore, it is recommended that county clerks provide marriage certificates to all persons whose marriages were solemnized during this period as an administrative function and not a legal function. This would allow, for instance, same-sex couples who solemnized their marriage prior to the stay to have proper documentation in states that recognize same-sex marriage.

In that missive, Sean Reyes, the state’s new attorney general, certainly seemed to express the belief that the couples’ marriages should be valid in the marriage equality states, which would also seem to imply that federal recognition is likely.

The final resolution of this issue, unsurprisingly, is going to come from the courts.  Yesterday, the ACLU said that it had been “overwhelmed” by couples seeking to sign onto planned lawsuit to challenge Gov. Herbert’s decision on the 1,300 marriages.  This little legal battle is far from over.

Help us travel to Denver this spring to cover oral arguments in the Utah marriage equality case. You won’t regret it, and you can help EqualityOnTrial be a part of history in the making.  Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to EqualityOnTrial in the new year to help us continue this mission–any amount helps!


  • 1. davep  |  January 10, 2014 at 9:57 am

    This whole ridiculous situation they have now created in Utah will soon require me to construct a Sheldon Cooper-esque "If-Then" decision diagram on a white board in my living room so I can understand what the hell they have done…..

  • 2. grod  |  January 10, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    A Thousand Gather to Ask Utah's Appeal to be Withdrawn

  • 3. davep  |  January 10, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Powerful stuff in that article:
    The crowd also heard from Riley Hackford-Peer, a shaggy, red-headed 6th grader who said he has wanted his moms to get married for a while.

    "I was scared of being taken away from one of my moms," he said. "Some people don’t believe I’m from a loving family because my moms are gay. They are wrong."

    Riley first asked his moms Ruth and Kim, who met 17 years ago, to drive to Iowa to marry when he learned it was legal there. Riley said his moms explained that their marriage still wouldn’t be legal in Utah and that they wanted to marry in their home state. And then came Shelby’s decision.

    "On Dec. 20, it happened. I saw my moms get married in Utah," Riley said, as his brother Casey stood by his side. "It felt like fireworks bursting in my heart."

  • 4. grod  |  January 12, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Dave, thank you for taking the time to introduce Riley here. I'm hoping Kitchen's lawyer, James Magleby, takes inspiration from this pre-teen's encounter with fireworks of the heart. G.

  • 5. grod  |  January 10, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    The National Center for Lesbian Rights joins Magleby & Greenwood as counsel for the plaintiff couples in Kitchen v. Herbert. M & G said: “We believe it is in our clients’ best interest now that the case is on appeal, and particularly since it is on an expedited briefing schedule, to have a national organization with significant experience litigating and winning marriage equality cases to enhance our perspective and fire-power as we move forward, marriage equality cases to enhance our perspective and fire-power as we move forward. We also wanted a national organization that has a real connection with Utah. NCLR’s Executive Director was raised in Utah, worked there as a lawyer and has a daughter living there who married during the December window.

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