ACLU sues Utah over gay marriages

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Utah in an attempt to force the state to recognize the more than 1,000 same-sex marriages performed during a brief window earlier this year. 

The complaint filed Tuesday on behalf of four same-sex couples seeks legal recognition of the marriages performed during a 17-day window when gay marriage was allowed in the state — after a district court judge struck down the state’s gay marriage ban but before the Supreme Court stayed the decision pending appeal.

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“By retroactively stripping Plaintiffs’ marriages of legal recognition, the State of Utah has put these couples and their families in legal limbo and prevented legally married same-sex couples from accessing critical protections for themselves and their children,” the complaint reads. 

A district court judge ruled last month that Utah’s 2004 ban on gay marriage violated the constitution. Thousands of same-sex couples rushed to obtain marriage licenses before the Supreme Court stayed the court decision in order to give time for Utah to appeal the ruling. 

While the federal government said it would recognize same-sex marriages made in that brief window, the state said it would not. The Utah governor did, however, say the state would comply with federal law in providing federal services to those same-sex couples. 

“State recognition of same-sex marital status is ON HOLD until further notice,” a letter from Gov. Gary Herbert’s (R) office read earlier this month. “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 ACLU said the marriages should stand regardless of the success of Utah’s appeal to the 10th circuit court of appeals in the broader case. 

“Regardless of what ultimately happens in the federal challenge to Utah’s marriage ban, the marriages that already occurred are valid and must be recognized now,” said John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU in the state.