The governor of Utah and the state’s acting attorney general are calling for a halt to same-sex marriages in the state following a wave of couples exchanging vows after a court ruling instituting marriage equality.
Acting Attorney General Brian Tarbet — along with attorneys for Gov. Gary Herbert — filed two requests on Friday for emergency stays. One is before the district court that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, the other is before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, where it is anticipated state officials will appeal the decision.
The request before the district court, which stunned the nation by delivering a surprise ruling in favor of marriage equality in the country’s most conservative state, says a stay should be put in place because the Tenth Circuit has no precedent for marriage equality and other courts have upheld bans on same-sex marriage.
“This Court’s decision constitutes a fundamental shift away from society’s understanding of what marriage is,” the requests states. “For over one hundred years Utah has adhered to a definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman and has never recognized as a marriage any other kind of relationship…And, Utah does not stand alone. A majority of States adhere to the same definition of marriage.”
Moreover, Herbert’s attorneys write that continuing to allow same-sex couples to wed could subject them to “irreparable harm” if a higher court decides to overturn the ruling.
“Such marriages would be entered into under a cloud of uncertainty,” the requests states. “Should the appeal be successful those couples may suffer irreparable harm when their marriages are declared invalid.”
The decision on instituting a stay won’t happen immediately. According to the Associated Press, the attorney general’s office reportedly said the judge would need a couple of days to review any request for an emergency stay.
UPDATE: In response to the state’s request for a stay, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby scheduled a hearing on Monday at 9 am. The docket doesn’t give any indication of whether Shelby will announce a decision once the hearing is complete, or at a later time.
Shelby also gives the plaintiff same-sex couples in the case until 5 pm on Sunday to respond to the stay, and defendants the opportunity the reply to that response.
Attorneys representing the plaintiffs at Magleby and Greenwood PC already responded to the request before the Tenth Circuit, saying the state didn’t address issues the appellate court considers important in deciding whether to grant a stay.
“[A]s the District Court explained in its summary judgment order, ‘the harm experienced by same- sex couples in Utah as a result of their inability to marry is undisputed’ in this matter,” the brief states.
In a blog post, University of Southern California law professor David Cruz writes that Shelby is “unlikely” to grant a stay on Utah same-sex marriage, and if the Tenth Circuit does, it won’t be the result of the state’s arguments.
“It can be hard to convince judges that they made a mistake in their rulings,” Cruz said. “But the state officials did not even make much effort here. Their position basically was a safety-in-numbers argument: we’ve got lots of cases we cited upholding laws excluding same-sex couples from marriage.”
The ruling in favor marriage equality unleashed of wave of gay couples applying for marriage licenses in the few hours on Friday after the decision was handed down, but before the clerks’ offices closed.
According to KSL News, the Salt Lake City county clerk issued between 115 and 120 marriage licenses, breaking a record for the number issued in one day. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker was at the clerk’s office and performed 35 same-sex marriages. State Sen. Jim Dabakis, who’s gay and chair of the Utah Democratic Party married his longtime partner Stephen Justesen.
But not all gay couples were allowed the opportunity to wed. According to Reuters, same-sex couples also tried to obtain marriage licenses in Weber County, Washington County, Davis County and Utah County, but clerks there turned them away on the grounds that they needed to see the federal court ruling and evaluate it.
Meanwhile, the Salt Lake City county clerk pledged to open again on Saturday at 11 am to accommodate more couples seeking to wed.
The window of opportunity for these gay couples may be short. If the courts institute a stay on the ruling as requested by the state, it would mean gay couples would no longer be able to obtain marriage licenses from clerks throughout the state.