Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has placed on hold recognition of same-sex marriages in the state following a stay on gay nuptials put in place this week by the Supreme Court.
The governor’s chief of staff Derek Miller indicated recognition of same-sex marriages would be placed on hold in an email Tuesday to Cabinet members on Herbert’s staff.
“Based on counsel from the Attorney General’s Office regarding the Supreme Court decision, state recognition of same-sex marital status is ON HOLD until further notice,” Miller writes.
On Monday, the Supreme Court placed a stay on marriage equality in Utah, which started occurring in the state on Dec. 20 after U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled against Amendment 3, the state law prohibiting same-sex marriage. Utah state officials — Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes— requested the stay on gay nuptials pending the results of the litigation, which is currently before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Although the letter doesn’t explicitly say for how long the hold recognition on same-sex marriages will last, the suggestion is that the state won’t recognize the marriages until the courts say otherwise. Nate McDonald, a Herbert spokesperson, said the hold on recognition of same-sex marriages will continue “until it goes through the legal process.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, criticized Herbert for the decision, saying it “harms hundreds of Utah families” seeking legal protections.
“Governor Herbert has once again planted himself firmly on the side of discrimination by preserving the second-class status he believes gay and lesbian Utahans merit,” Griffin said. “These families deserve better and I have no doubt the courts will soon grant them the justice and equality that our Constitution demands.”
Elizabeth Cooper, a law professor at Fordham Law School, said Utah has taken a highly unusual step by not recognizing the same-sex marriages because a stay should only freeze more from occurring and not be retroactive.
“Although the state may believe it is stabilizing the situation, it, in fact, is adding more uncertainty to the situation,” Cooper said. “The issue of whether same-sex couples may marry in Utah ultimately will be answered by the courts, not by the state’s unilateral action. Had it wanted to legitimately roll back the clock, the state should have petitioned the courts with its request.”
One question that remains is whether the federal government will recognize the same-sex marriages if Utah won’t recognize them. On Wednesday, Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokesperson, said, “The department is reviewing the governor’s decision.”
Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, joined other LGBT advocates in calling for federal government to recognize the marriages.
“These families should not be stuck in legal limbo while the State’s appeal plays out,” Umhoefer said. “We call on the federal government to give them some measure of human dignity to which they are constitutionally entitled by recognizing their marriages under federal law.”
The complete email follows:
I’m sure you are all aware of the issuance of the stay regarding same-sex marriage in Utah from the United States Supreme Court yesterday. This stay effectively puts a hold on the decision of the district court, which found state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in Utah to be unconstitutional.
After the district court decision was issued on Friday, December 20th, some same-sex couples availed themselves of the opportunity to marry and to the status granted by the state to married persons. This office sent an email to each of you soon after the district court decision, directing compliance.
With the district court injunction now stayed, the original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts. It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex marriages.
Based on counsel from the Attorney General’s Office regarding the Supreme Court decision, state recognition of same-sex marital status is ON HOLD until further notice. 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. The intent of this communication is to direct state agency compliance with current laws that prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages.
Wherever individuals are in the process of availing themselves of state services related to same-sex marital status, that process is on hold and will stay exactly in that position until a final court decision is issued. For example, if a same-sex married couple previously changed their names on new drivers licenses, those licenses should not be revoked. If a same-sex couple seeks to change their names on drivers licenses now, the law does not allow the state agency to recognize the marriage therefore the new drivers licenses cannot be issued.
We appreciate your patience and diligence in this matter. We recognize that different state agencies have specific questions and circumstances that will need to be worked through. Please do so with the Assistant Attorney General assigned to your respective agency in coordination with the Governor’s General Counsel. We also recognize that these changes affect real people’s lives. Let us carefully and considerately ensure that we, and our employees throughout the state, continue to treat all people with respect and understanding as we assist them.
Derek B. Miller
Chief of Staff
State of Utah