Attorney General Eric Holder said for the purpose of receiving federal benefits, the more than 1,000 marriages performed in Utah are valid.
He said that since the Windsor decision issued in June 2013, the Justice Department has been working tirelessly to implement it.
“These couples should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds,” he said.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Utah after a court ruling on Dec. 20. It remained legal until Jan. 6 when the state obtained an injunction.
Today, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes instructed county clerks to finish the paperwork for those marriages that had been solemnized despite the injunction. He said the paperwork is an administrative function, not a legal one, so the state will continue not to recognize those marriages as valid.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes issued a statement Wednesday saying he was “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,” continued Reyes. He said any same-sex couple applying for some state marriage benefit or recognition would be evaluated on a “case-by-case basis” by a “review team” established just for that purpose.
Reyes stated that the U.S. Supreme Court’s grant of a stay against the federal district court decision that struck down Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples “means that Utah’s laws defining marriage … are again in effect.”
The attorney general’s statement acknowledges that 1,300 same-sex couples have married in the two and a half weeks since U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby issued his decision and immediately enjoined the state from enforcing its ban. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday granted Utah’s stay against Shelby’s order.
Later, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s office issued a statement, saying “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.”
“There is no reason for the state to destabilize these families,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which just Wednesday sought designation from the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to serve as co-counsel for same-sex couples on the state’s appeal of Shelby’s decision in Kitchen v. Herbert. “These couples are legally married, the state has been providing them with marital rights and protections, and it should continue to do so. There is no need for this kind of case-by-case review, and putting married couples and their families through this process is humiliating and will subject them to needless uncertainty and legal vulnerability.”
Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, which has a number of marriage equality lawsuits in the works, including one in the 9th Circuit, said he believes “couples who married prior to the stay remain married.”
“They validly married pursuant to the law at the time they married, given that a court order allowed them to marry then,” said Davidson. But, he added, with the injunction against enforcement of the ban now stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court, “there is no court order preventing what the AG is suggesting be done.”
“Any couple whose marriage is denied recognition by the state would have a claim that refusing to honor their marriage violates their constitutional right, however, and I believe it would be a strong claim, given the vested property rights and reliance interest that couples who lawfully marry in a state have that their marriage will be respected,” said Davidson. “Accordingly, if the state does refuse to honor their marriage, it may be facing additional litigation.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said Attorney General Reyes’ action “harms hundreds of Utah families and denies them the respect and basic protections that they deserve as legally married couples.”
A private law firm, Magleby & Greenwood, is representing same-sex couples who initiated the Kitchen v. Herbert lawsuit in Utah.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is pondering whether to grant a stay of a federal district court’s order that the state of Utah stop enforcing its ban on marriage for same-sex couples.
The state’s new attorney general filed a petition Tuesday to the court to grant the emergency stay, after being denied a stay by the federal district court and the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Sotomayor is the justice designated to handle such requests from the 10th Circuit. She can either make a decision about the stay on her own or ask the full court to weigh in. If she refuses to grant the stay, Utah has the option of asking the full court to consider its request.
The brief filed on behalf of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, sworn into office Dec. 30, 2013, and Gov. Gary Herbert, both Republicans, relies on a statement in the Supreme Court’s two marriage decisions last June. The brief says the U.S. v. Windsor decision striking the Defense of Marriage Act’s key provision made clear that the federal government “cannot constitutionally disregard State laws allowing same-sex marriage.”
But the federal district court decision in Kitchen v. Herbert, says the state, “found no animus behind Utah’s marriage laws,” and yet exercised “an outright abrogation” of the state’s definition of marriage.
The brief calls each same-sex marriage in Utah “an affront” to the state and its citizens’ ability to define marriage “through ordinary democratic channels.” It argues that a stay is necessary to “minimize the enormous disruption” that might be caused by “potentially having to ‘unwind’ thousands more same-sex marriages….”
Utah voters adopted the ban on same-sex marriage and any other form of same-sex relationship in 2004 through a ballot measure known as Amendment 3 to the state constitution. Two other statutes enforce that ban. On December 20, in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby declared the ban unconstitutional.
In making its case for a stay, Utah’s brief said the question presented by Kitchen is “the same question” presented by last session’s Proposition 8 case. But unlike Hollingsworth v. Perry, said the Utah brief, the Kitchen case presents no questions concerning legal standing. Last June, the Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage because the party appealing the case lacked legal standing to do so.
Meanwhile, the Utah Legislature is preparing to take up yet another constitutional amendment — one to specify that churches cannot be made to host same-sex marriage ceremonies in violation of their religious views. There seems to be less controversy surrounding this new ban. Openly gay state Senator Jim Debakis told the Salt Lake City Tribune he doesn’t know of anyone who wants to force churches to perform ceremonies against their beliefs. The Legislature convenes January 27.
Local papers have reported that between 700 and 900 marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples since the December 20 order barring further enforcement of Amendment 3.
It’s unclear whether Native American opposition to gay marriage comes primarily from tradition or from the influence of most U.S. states, where it is still illegal. A Navajo group’s battle to overturn a tribal ban on same-sex unions has become a microcosm of this question, Al Jazeera America reported.
Alray Nelson, founder of the Coalition for Navajo Equality, says he wants the Navajo Nation to respect gay relationships like two of the states that surround its territory — New Mexico, where gay marriage was legalized this month, and Utah, where it was recently ruled legal but faces a mounting appeal.
“There’s no organized faction against this, like in the fight (for) Proposition 8 in California,” said Nelson, 27, whose organization is seeking to make tribal legislators review a 2005 tribal ban on gay marriage early next year.
Opposition to the review may not be organized, but it exists.
Deswood Tome, special adviser to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, told Al Jazeera that although Navajo respect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Navajo, marriage is traditionally between a man and woman.
Tome referred to a traditional phrase in the Navajo language that “means that ‘a man and woman come together.’ That’s our core belief as Navajo people … I’ve never heard of a man and man.”
The Navajo Nation does not see its current legislation prohibiting gay marriage as an affront to LGBT people, Tome said.
“The Navajo Nation Council doesn’t look at this as an ‘anti’ issue. There are many gays and lesbians who are Navajo. The way we look at it is that they are people, just like heterosexuals. They’re the same,” he said.
Tome, who Navajo Nation public relations staff said was the tribal president’s aide most familiar with the issue of gay marriage, initially said he did not know the exact status of the legislation barring gay marriage, or the president’s stance on the issue.
“I have to call the president and ask him,” he said in a telephone interview.
Later, he called back and said Shelly “basically reaffirmed what I was telling you about Navajo beliefs.”
“But as far as him personally … he says it is their personal choice. So, if two men want to tie the knot, it’s up to them.”
Darryl Tso, another special adviser to the Navajo government who Tome indicated may better know the existing legislation and movements against it, had not responded to an interview request from Al Jazeera at the time of publication.
Although Tome’s interpretation of Navajo social mores indicate that Nelson’s group may face some opposition because of tribal tradition, activists note that the original legislation banning gay marriage on Navajo land took root because of D.C. politics.
“Back in 2005, the Tribal Council passed this law. It was a reactionary law. At the time, President Bush was pushing for a definition of marriage at a national level,” Nelson said. In 2004, then-President George W. Bush started a push for a constitutional amendment that would solidify the principles of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which the Supreme Court reviewed this year.
Some members of other Native American tribes echoed Nelson’s opinion that legislation banning gay marriage comes from non-Native Americans.
In October, two gay men became the third same-sex couple to be officially married by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. Their territory is surrounded by Oklahoma, where gay marriage remains illegal and faces much opposition.
After their marriage, a high-level official called a tribal meeting to discuss measures to block such unions, said Cheyenne and Arapaho Lt. Gov. Amber Bighorse-Suitor.
“I was surprised when this broke that there was any opposition in the tribe. The attitude in Oklahoma seems to have infiltrated some of our tribal attitudes,” she said.
The discourse on banning gay marriage went nowhere, Bighorse-Suitor said, because the tribal Constitution prevents the government from making laws that discriminate against tribe members on the basis of sexual orientation.
Bighorse-Suitor said opposition to gay marriage was introduced into the Cheyenne and Arapaho cultures from the outside.
“The younger people have grown up not inheriting that attitude,” she said, “Native cultures might be more likely to go in the opposite direction, incorporating these ideals that come from Anglo religions into their mindset.”
Bighorse-Suitor noted that in many Native American cultures, gay people have “always been honored” as “two-spirit people” endowed with spiritual talents.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Aubrey Loots and Danny Leclair joke that they’re getting married New Year’s Day in front of 80 million of their closest friends, and the men say they aren’t that concerned that a few thousand others may boycott the first gay marriage at the 125-year-old Rose Parade.
The pair, together for 12 years, plan to tie the knot atop a giant wedding cake on the AIDS Healthcare Foundation float when it stops at the Rose Parade’s reviewing stand on Wednesday. Hundreds of thousands of people line the 5 1/2-mile parade route through Pasadena and an estimated 80 million more are expected to watch on TV from around the world.
It’s probably safe to assume that among those not watching will be Karen Grube of San Diego, who launched a “Boycott The 2014 Rose Parade” Facebook page after learning of the couple’s intentions. As of Monday, it had about 4,000 likes.
Grube, who didn’t immediately respond to an interview request, has said that while she has nothing against Loots or Leclair, their wedding is an insult to people in the 32 states where gay marriage is still illegal.
“Why would the Tournament of Roses promote something illegal like that? Pot smoking is legal in some states too, and some even claim it has medical benefits. What’s next for the Rose Parade? A float touting the benefits of smoking pot?” said a statement on the “Boycott the 2014 Rose Parade” page.
Loots and Leclair say they have nothing personal against their critics either, adding they expected some backlash.
“As far as Karen is concerned, or any of those detractors is concerned, I actually personally feel that I’m grateful that they’re willing to speak out,” Leclair told The Associated Press on Monday, as his fiance spoke up in agreement. “It’s only in hearing what others have to say that we are able to engage in a conversation, that we are able to find common ground.”
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, quickly joined the conversation, issuing a statement saying children watching Wednesday’s parade “will be exposed to the spectacle of men ‘marrying’ men with the attendant public hugging and kissing.”
“We urge Americans to demand that their political leaders change the legal channel to make sure true marriage is protected and preserved,” he said.
The Pasadena Tournament of Roses, which puts on the parade, said in a statement that it is proud to have the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s float, adding it clearly represents this year’s parade theme, “Dreams Come True.”
“Like all of our sponsors and float designers, AHF continues to help make the Rose Parade a premier event through original and creative expressions that connect to parade themes,” the statement said.
Loots and Leclair, who say it was love at first sight when they met across a crowded dance floor 12 years ago, had planned to marry in 2014. But they said Monday that they had no idea it would be in front of the Rose Parade reviewing stand where the Rev. Alfreda Lanoix of the Unity Fellowship Church of Christ is to perform the ceremony. The couple and the pastor will be perched on a giant wedding-cake-shaped platform.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation chose Loots and Leclair, who own a small chain of hair salons, from among several couples who interviewed for the opportunity.
With same-sex marriage legal in Utah, Hill Air Force Base, near Ogden, has become one of the few U.S. military installations where such unions can be performed, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The Tribune reported that as of Thursday, no same-sex marriages had occurred at Hill, said base spokesman Richard Essary, who said he conferred with chaplains there. But Essary confirmed such ceremonies will be allowed at Hill, which has more than 20,000 military and civilian personnel.
The U.S. military allows same-sex marriage ceremonies on installations in states that recognize gay marriage, but with the highest concentration of U.S. military installations in southern states that ban such unions, few brides and grooms have gotten to wear their dress uniforms in a same-sex ceremony and walk under an archway of sabres or rifles.
Utah became the 18th state to allow same-sex marriage when federal Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down the state’s Amendment 3 this month. That’s not to say same-sex couples will be a new phenomenon at Hill.
Master Sgt. Angela Shunk and Tech Sgt. Stacey Shunk were transferred to Hill from Aviano Air Base, Italy, earlier this year as the first same-sex couple to be receive what the military calls a join spouse assignment, according to a September article in Stars and Stripes.
Federal judges in three states advanced marriage equality lawsuits Monday.
One of two lawsuits challenging Virginia’s ban on recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples advanced after a federal judge denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case. Judge Michael Urbanski of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia (Harrisonburg) issued a 17-page memorandum, saying, “It is abundantly clear that plaintiffs’ alleged harm is actual, concrete, and particularized.”
Harris v. McDonnell is a challenge organized by Lambda Legal and the ACLU for two lesbian couples. One couple would like to marry in Virginia; the other has married in the District of Columbia and would like their marriage recognized in Virginia.
Citing sovereign immunity, the judge did dismiss the suit as it was applied to Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, but the lawsuit will proceed with chief defendant Thomas Roberts, the clerk of the Staunton Circuit Court and Janet Rainey, the state registrar.
In Ohio,U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black issued a 50-page decision, saying the state constitution’s ban on recognizing same-sex married couples violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection.
The lawsuit was Obergefell v. Wymyslo, in which two surviving spouses sought the right to be identified as such on the death certificates of their spouses.
Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in U.S. v. Windsor, Black said, “It is beyond debate that it is constitutionally prohibited to single out and disadvantage an unpopular group.”
Black issued a permanent injunction against the state from refusing to identify a deceased person’s same-sex spouse on his death certificate.
“Dying with an incorrect death certificate that prohibits the deceased Plaintiffs from being buried with dignity constitutes irreparable harm,” Black wrote. Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine said the state will appeal the decision to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
And in Utah,U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby denied Utah’s request to delay the effect of his December 20 order that the state stop enforcing its ban on same-sex couples marrying.
The Salt Lake City Tribune reported that shortly after Shelby denied the stay, “hundreds” of same-sex couples began applying for marriage licenses around the state.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert’s administration then asked the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to issue a stay of Shelby’s order, pending the state’s appeal of Shelby’s decision that the ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.
A federal judge in Utah just issued a decision striking down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Obama appointee Judge Robert Shelby issued a 53-page decision, in Kitchen v. Herbert, saying the state’s current definition of marriage is not permissible under the U.S. Constitution.
Noting that a court interferes with a law adopted by voters “only under exceptional circumstances,” Shelby said, “Utah’s prohibition on same- sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law.”
“The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry,” wrote Shelby, “and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason.”
Shelby’s order immediately enjoined the state from enforcing its ban, but Republican Gov. Gary Herbert’s administration will almost certainly seek an emergency stay of the decision from the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
It is, nevertheless, yet another surge of momentum in the direction of marriage equality in the United States, coming just one day after the New Mexico Supreme Court said that state could no longer interpret its marriage laws to exclude same-sex couples. That decision made New Mexico the 17th state in the country, plus the District of Columbia, to provide marriage equality and putting more than one-third of the states and one-third of the the nation’s population in jurisdictions that treat same-sex couples the same as straight couples.