Utah Gov. Gary Herbert instructed members of his cabinet Monday to place state recognition of same-sex marriage "on hold" following a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to stay a district court’s decision striking down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.
According to an email sent by the Republican governor’s chief of staff, Derek Miller, Monday night and published Tuesday by Fox13, "the original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts."
"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," the email states. "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."
The email comes after the unexpected advancement of marriage equality in one of the most conservative states in the nation came screeching to a halt Monday following the granting of a stay request by the Supreme Court, leaving those same-sex couples who legally married in Utah left in a state of legal limbo.
More than 1,000 same-sex couples are estimated to have been married since U.S District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby declared Utah's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional in a 53-page Dec. 20 ruling that found "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 U.S. Supreme Court Monday to granted an emergency stay for the decision, thus blocking same-sex marriages in Utah pending appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Although the email pertains to state benefits, the Justice Department has not yet indicated whether federal benefits will be extended to legally married same-sex couples in Utah. Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on the case itself, but said President Obama believes "strongly that protections should not be taken away from committed gay and lesbian couples who want to take care of their families."
Read the letter to members of Herbert's cabinet below:
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
[Photo: Gov. Gary Herbert. Credit: Official photo.]