May 19, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Court orders Utah to recognize in-state same-sex marriages

Elenor Heyborne, Marina Gomberg, Matt Barazza, Tony Milner, ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, gay news, Washington Blade

Elenor Heyborne (on left) and Marina Gomberg; Matt Barazza, Tony Milner (left) and Jesse (center) are suing Utah to recognize their marriages. (Photos courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union)

The state of Utah must recognize the estimated 1,300 same-sex marriages performed within the state as legally valid, a federal judge ruled Monday.

In the case of Evans v. Utah, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball issued a preliminary injunction requiring Utah to recognize the unions performed in state in the aftermath of another court decision in December striking down Amendment 3, the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“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,” Kimball writes. “These legal uncertainties and lost rights cause harm each day that the marriage is not recognized.”

Kimball’s preliminary injunction isn’t a permanent order, but demonstrates the court believes plaintiffs’ are likely to prevail and would suffer irreparable harm if their marriages aren’t recognized. A 21-day stay was included in the order to allow Utah to respond.

Utah briefly had marriage equality after the district court ruling in favor of marriage equality, but that ended when for the time being when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on the marriage pending appeal of the lawsuit.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said Utah wouldn’t recognize marriages already performed in the state for the purposes of the state benefits. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, on the other hand, said the Obama administration would recognize the marriages under federal law.

In January, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Utah and the Salt Lake City-based firm Strindberg & Scholnick, LLC, filed the lawsuit in state court on behalf of four same-sex couples who married in Utah suing to force the state to recognize their marriage. The case was removed to federal court because there were federal claims.

John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, said in a statement that the preliminary injunction comes as welcomes news to the plaintiff couples as well as all other couples who wed in Utah.

“Our clients, like over 1,000 other same-sex couples, were legally married and those marriages cannot now be taken away from them,” Mejia said. “While we await a permanent decision, we are relieved that our clients will receive the full recognition they deserve as lawfully married couples.”

The Utah attorney general didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment to react to the decision or say what would be the next steps the state would take in the matter.

The lawsuit is separate from the ongoing lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Utah. That case, Kitchen v. Herbert, is pending before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments on the litigation last month.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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