June 6, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
GOP guvs move to block recognition of gay marriages
Gary Herbert, Utah, gay news, Washington Blade, Republican Party

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has asked a court to stay state recognition of same-sex marriages performed in Utah. (Photo public domain)

Republican governors in states where marriage equality was briefly available took steps this week to ensure their jurisdictions won’t have to recognize same-sex unions performed in-state, resulting in a court placing a temporary stay on recognition of gay nuptials performed in Utah.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder issued filings asking federal courts to hold off on any requirement for state recognition of same-sex marriages performed in their states.

Both Utah and Michigan briefly had marriage equality earlier this year as a result of district court rulings striking down marriage bans in those states, although higher courts later placed a stay on same-sex weddings in both these jurisdictions.

In the case of Evans v. Utah, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay Thursday on the recognition of the estimated 1,300 same-sex marriages performed in the state after U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball issued a preliminary injunction in May requiring Utah to consider them valid.

According to the notice, the temporary stay will be in effect until further order from the Tenth Circuit. The plaintiff same-sex couples have until May 12 at 11:59 p.m. Mountain Time to respond to the imposition of the stay.

The stay was put in place as a result of Herbert, along with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, filing a stay request with the Tenth Circuit in addition to an appeal of the lower court’s preliminary injunction. The stay request was signed by Utah Federal Solicitor & Chief of Staff Parker Douglas and other attorneys.

Among the reasons for requesting a stay was a contention that the district court erred in its decision bringing marriage equality to Utah and recognition of same-sex marriages would harm the state if that decision were overturned by a higher court.

“It is possible, if this Court does not issue a stay, that this Court may nonetheless conclude that the district court erred and the injunction must be reversed; if Kitchen is also subsequently reversed, Plaintiffs’ marriages will technically be void under Utah law,” the stay request says. “How will the State and Plaintiffs address the problems such a scenario would create? Neither Plaintiffs nor the State should be subjected to this possibility.”

John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU of Utah, criticized state officials for continued efforts to block state recognition of same-sex marriages performed in Utah. His organization filed the lawsuit of behalf of plaintiff same-sex couples in the state.

“We are deeply disappointed by Governor Herbert and Attorney General Reyes’ decision to appeal the district court’s ruling and to continue their ill-advised and legally unprecedented campaign to strip recognition from over a thousand legally married couples and their families,” Mejia said. “We had hoped Governor Herbert and Attorney General Reyes would stop wasting taxpayer dollars trying to tear these familIes and let them move on with their lives like any other married couple.”

In Michigan, no court has yet ruled the state must recognize the more than 300 same-sex marriages that took place in March for one day before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals placed a stay on the weddings.

However, Snyder asked a district court considering litigation requiring the state to afford these couples benefits to hold off on any such ruling and throw out the lawsuit, Caspar v. Snyder, seeking these benefits.

In a seven-page filing signed by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the state asks the court to hold off on a ruling until the case that brought marriage equality to Michigan, DeBoer v. Snyder, is resolved.

And in a separate 26-page filing, Schuette says the marriage-recognition case should be thrown out because plaintiffs haven’t shown violation of constitutional rights and in some cases don’t have standing to sue.

“[S]everal Plaintiffs have not taken steps to obtain any benefits, some of which are dependent upon factors other than a valid marriage,” the filing states. “Therefore, the current record is insufficient to establish that Plaintiffs have been denied benefits solely because they are not legally married. At this point, this case presents nothing more than an abstract disagreement, the adjudication of which is premature. Accordingly, dismissal is warranted.”

Snyder has previously concluded Michigan would recognize same-sex marriages performed in his state, but nonetheless won’t afford these couples any benefits. He’s running for re-election this year in a predominately “blue” state where a majority of the population supports marriage equality.

Mark Schauer, the Michigan Democratic candidate for governor, criticized Snyder in a statement to the Blade for continuing to block recognition of same-sex marriages performed in Michigan.

“Nobody should face discrimination based on who they love. Michigan’s marriage equality ban hurts our economy by making it harder to attract highly-skilled workers and entrepreneurs,” Schauer said. “By refusing to recognize these legally-performed marriages, it’s clear this governor is on the wrong side of history. It’s time for Gov. Snyder to stop wasting Michigan taxpayer dollars on a costly appeal. As Governor, discrimination will have no place in my administration. I’ll wake up every day focused on rebuilding our economy, and protecting the rights of all Michigan citizens.”

Schauer’s running mate, Lisa Brown, is one of four clerks in the state who performed same-sex marriages following the district court ruling. She also assisted with litigation seeking marriage equality in the state.

Regardless of whether or not Utah and Michigan will recognize the same-sex marriages performed in their states, those unions will be deemed valid in the eyes of the federal government. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced the Obama administration will recognize the same-sex marriages performed in those states for the purposes of federal benefits.

Litigation seeking recognition of same-sex marriages in these states is on a parallel track with lawsuits seeking outright marriage equality that were responsible for bringing same-sex marriage to Utah and Michigan in the first place. The case seeking same-sex marriage in Utah is pending before the Tenth Circuit; the case seeking same-sex marriage in Michigan is pending before the Sixth Circuit.

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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