History is repeating itself: Back in 2008, when California's Proposition 8 was passed, hundreds of gay couples who had married in the state found their "legally married" status in limbo. Now recently-wed same-sex partners in Utah are facing the same predicament, after a U.S. Supreme Court judge upheld a previous decision to ban gay marriage in the heavily Mormon state.
On Dec. 20, U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby had struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage. In a 53-page-ruling, Shelby said that it violated a state law passed by voters in 2004, which granted gay and lesbian couples' rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. But now Derek Miller, chief of staff to Utah Governor Gary Herbert, has written to state agencies to say that those marriages will be "on hold" while it appeals Shelby's decision.
In other words, couples who did not solemnize their marriage before Monday of this week aren't considered legally married, reports the AP. Even if they have a marriage license, that by itself doesn't mean a thing, unless there has also been a ceremony with two witnesses and an officiator.
More than 1,000 gay couples ordered marriage licenses in the last two weeks.
Utah's U-turn on same-sex marriage follows the recent decisions of New Mexico and Hawaii to rule unconstitutional their previous bans on same-sex marriage. But Utah's unique conservative-religious climate means neither their example, nor the Californian precedent, will necessarily have any sway on its decision to deny gay couples equal-marriage rights.
At the original hearing on same-sex marriage back in December, attorneys for the state of Utah argued against the U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 ruling, which struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act. They said the ruling hadn't given same-sex couples the universal right to marry, nor did it give courts the power to pronounce on a state's definition of marriage.
Instead, Utah law was apparently there to promote "responsible procreation" and the "optimal mode of child-rearing."
Now, an estimated 1,300 couples that sought marriage licenses between December 20 and January 6 await to hear about the validity of their unions. "That question remains unanswered, and the answer will depend on the result of the appeal process," was all Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes could offer. That said, Reyes also explained that he had established a review team to assess couples' situations on a case-by-case basis: "we are diligently seeking certainty for all Utahns through proper and orderly legal process."
The case will now make it to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where an expedited briefing schedule for the appeal has been set, with all filings from both sides due by the end of February.
Let's face it, Utah never really was the choicest destination for an elopement — but if you're planning a same-sex ceremony, stick to one of the 17 states which actually honor the 14th Amendment.
Image: Getty Images