WASHINGTON — The Utah governor's office has told state agencies not to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples that were granted in the two weeks during which same-sex couples could marry in the state.
The letter, sent Tuesday from Gov. Bob Herbert's chief of staff, was released Wednesday morning:
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
Update at 1:30 p.m.: Peggy A. Tomsic, one of the lawyers at Magleby & Greenwood who are representing the plaintiff same-sex couples, said in a statement:
"This unprecedented and disappointing action harms not only my clients, but hundreds of other same-sex couples who also were legally married, and whose families have been needlessly destabilized and stripped of basic legal protection. By taking this unwarranted action, the State of Utah has discounted the lives of thousands of Utah citizens who live, work, and raise their families in Utah and pay Utah and federal taxes like all other Utah citizens. Regardless of how the State believes the Tenth Circuit will ultimately rule, these couples are legally married, and the State should treat them accordingly."
Update at 2:10 p.m.: Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes issued a statement:
We understand that this is a matter of great public import that impacts lives on a very personal basis. Prior to and since the U.S. Supreme Court stay of the district court's injunction in Kitchen v. Herbert, our office has been researching the proper legal course to address this uniquely challenging issue without any clear precedent to guide us.
We are unable to reach a legal conclusion as to the ultimate validity of marriage between persons of the same sex who completed their marriage ceremony in Utah between Dec 20, 2013 and Jan. 6, 2014. That question remains unanswered and the answer will depend on the result of the appeal process.
The Office of the Attorney General has advised the Governor in this case and will continue to work with the Governor and the individual agencies as they evaluate the application of specific policies and benefits within their agencies. A review team has been established to advise on a case-by-case basis.
The stay means that Utah's laws defining marriage, including Amendment 3 are again in effect and the county clerks in all of Utah's 29 counties, since the entry of the stay on January 6, are unable to issue licenses to marry persons of the same sex.
The State can neither recognize nor confer new marital benefits. While the ultimate validity of such marriages is subject to the decision of a higher court, it is clear that the State is bound by law to limit any benefits attaching after the stay.
We acknowledge that this is a very difficult situation for many. It was the reason our office sought the stay of the district court's decision immediately. We wanted to avoid the untenable situation in which many of our citizens find themselves. We are diligently seeking certainty for all Utah s through proper and orderly legal process.