Moral Low Ground

US Government

Equality On Hold: Utah Won’t Recognize Same-Sex Marriages It Licensed

The office of Utah’s Republican governor announced on Wednesday that the state will not recognize the unions of more than 1,300 same-sex couples who wed during the brief period the state was forced to lift a ban on gay marriage.

The New York Times reports Derek Miller, chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert, issued a memo to his cabinet explaining the change.

“The original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts,” the memo states. “It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex marriages.”

Just as last month’s ruling by US District Judge Robert J. Shelby declaring Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional sent shock waves through the staunchly conservative, majority Mormon state, today’s announcement rocked gay and lesbian couples still basking in the afterglow of having become the 18th state to achieve LGBT marriage equality.

“The state of Utah is now trying to take back all of these marriages by refusing to recognize them,” Clifford Rosky, chairman of the LGBT rights group Equality Utah, told the Times. “This is an unprecedented step, which inflicts severe harm on more than 1,000 families.” Rosky told the Deseret News that the state was “taking back” valid marriages that were “authorized by a federal court and solemnized in accordance with Utah law.”

“We are starting to feel persecuted,” Nicole Campolucci, a mother of three who married her partner on December 23, told the Times. Camploucci said she had planned to meet with a family law attorney with the goal of becoming a legal guardian of her wife’s children; now that the couple’s marriage is no longer recognized, she fears she won’t be able to do so.

Although the memo from the governor’s office claims that the state “recognizes that the changes affect real people’s lives” and that it would “continue to treat all people with respect and understanding,” Campolucci told the Times that she feels like “the state is going out of their way to make things as difficult for people as they possibly can.”

“For the governor to just overturn a court-mandated judgment just blows my mind,” Paul Butterfield, a Salt Lake City resident who is raising young twin sons with his male partner of 18 years, told the Washington Post.

The state attorney general’s office appealed Judge Shelby’s ruling almost immediately after it was announced. Although the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the state’s request for a stay of the ruling, the US Supreme Court granted that stay pending lower court resolution.

“We acknowledge that this is a very difficult situation for many,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement. “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 Utahans through a proper and orderly legal process.”

Like nearly 60 percent of Utahans, Gov. Herbert is a Mormon. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormon church, is strongly opposed to LGBT marriage equality and was instrumental in the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in that state for several years.

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