Moral Low Ground

US Government

Utah Ordered to Recognize More Than 1,000 Same-Sex Marriages

Judge Dale A. Kimball

Judge Dale A. Kimball

A federal judge on Monday ordered Utah officials to recognize more than 1,000 same-sex marriages performed in the staunchly Mormon state last late last year and early this year before the US Supreme Court issued an emergency stay halting such unions.

The Associated Press reports US District Judge Dale Kimball ruled that Utah must recognize the marriages and confer all the same rights and privileges upon wedded same-sex couples as upon mixed-sex couples.

“Although the state has a general interest in representing the wishes of its voters, that interest does not outweigh the harms [same-sex couples] face by having their constitutional rights violated,” wrote Kimball in his ruling.

“Governor Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes shall immediately recognize the marriages by same-sex couples entered pursuant to Utah marriage licenses issued and solemnized between December 20, 2013 and January 6, 2014, and afford these same-sex marriages all the protections, benefits and responsibilities given to all marriages under Utah law,” added Kimball.

Among the rights and privileges that should be extended to married same-sex couples are property and inheritance rights, legal protection and “the custody and care of children,” Kimball stated.

That last part means a lot to Matthew Barraza and Tony Milner, who married in December and are trying to have Milner officially recognized as a legal parent of their 5-year-old son, who starts kindergarten this fall.

“We’re ecstatic,” Barraza told the AP following the news of Kimball’s decision. “It’s something that’s really good for us and our family.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had filed a lawsuit on behalf of Barraza and Milner, as well as three other couples, arguing that Utah’s decision to halt benefits for same-sex couples violated their rights.

Kimball’s decision will not take effect for 21 days so that the state may appeal the ruling. State officials have not yet decided whether they will do so.

“The Attorney General’s office has not made an immediate determination about whether it will appeal Judge Kimball’s ruling,” said Missy Larsen, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office. “We are currently assessing the legal impact of today’s decision and will respond within the 21-day allotted time period.”

A spokesman for Gov. Gary Herbert, a devout Mormon who opposes LGBT marriage equality, said his office is “evaluating the options” in the case.

State Sen. Jim Dabakis, a gay Salt Lake City Democrat, said the stay directly harms his family. Dabakis married his partner during the brief 17-day period between Judge Robert J. Shelby’s ruling overturning the state’s gay marriage ban and the Supreme Court stay.

“As the only member of the Utah Senate whose spouse is refused state health care benefits… I applaud Judge Kimball’s ruling, and I urge the governor to respect the rule of law and withdraw his ‘hold’ on the dozens of Utah state employees affected as well as the hundreds of other married Utah couples,” Dabakis is quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Dabakis urged state officials to “stop spending millions of Utah tax dollars on wasteful message lawsuits designed to degrade and hurt LGBT families all across Utah.”

Kimball’s decision is the latest in a wave of federal court rulings in favor of marriage equality. On Tuesday, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. The historic decision comes just a day after another federal judge ruled that Oregon’s voter-approved constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage is also unconstitutional.

The Pennsylvania decision was the 14th consecutive victory for marriage equality in the United States.

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