Laurie Wood, left, and Kody Partridge embrace after being told they are officially married by the Rev. Curtis Price in the lobby of the Salt Lake County office on Dec. 20 in Salt Lake City.
(CNN) -- Utah will not recognize
the hundreds of same-sex marriages that were temporarily allowed by a
federal judge's ruling but before the Supreme Court issued an
injunction, the state announced Wednesday.
Officials say more than a thousand marriage licenses between gay and
lesbian couples were issued in the 17 days between the initial ruling
and the high court's Monday order blocking enforcement.
"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," said the governor's Chief of Staff Derek
Miller in a letter to cabinet officials.
"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
U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby concluded on December 20 the
decision that a state law banning same-sex marriage, approved in 2004,
conflicted with the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and
due process. That prompted many counties to begin issuing marriages
licenses, but the state then appealed to the Supreme Court.
The justices' two-sentence order blocks enforcement until the
constitutional questions are fully resolved. A federal appeals court
could hold oral arguments as soon as March. A ruling there could affect
all states within the court's jurisdiction: Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, New
Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
But in the meantime, that left the tricky, unresolved question about
the status of those who received marriage licenses after Shelby's
"The original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect
pending final resolution by the courts," said the letter from the
governor's office. "It is important to understand that those laws
include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also
recognizing same-sex marriages."
State officials had sharply criticized Shelby's ruling, and his order
same-sex marriages be allowed to take place immediately, saying it
created legal confusion.
"This is the uncertainty that we were trying to avoid by asking the
[federal] District Court for a stay immediately after its decision. It
is very unfortunate that so many Utah citizens have been put into this
legal limbo," said the state's attorney general Sean Reyes earlier this
More recently, same-sex marriage legal battles have become prominent in states where it is prohibited.
But the Utah case is a broad challenge that goes to the heart of
constitutional law as it applies to the state ban and could wind up back
at the Supreme Court. Same-sex couples say laws like Utah's violate
their equal protection and due process rights.
"It could be the challenge that a lot of people have been waiting
for, which is does the United States Constitution guarantee a right to
marriage for everyone," said CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
"That's the issue in this case and it's now working its way through the courts. It could take quite some time."
The Supreme Court ruled more narrowly this past summer on separate issues involving same-sex marriage.
It cleared the way for those unions in California to resume and
rejected parts of a federal law, concluding same-sex spouses legally
married in a state may receive federal benefits.
Most states still ban the practice, but polls show more support for it publicly.
The case is Herbert v. Kitchen.
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