Some 1,300 marriage licenses granted to same-sex couples since December 20, 2013 now hang in the balance, thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision to stay further same-sex marriages from occurring in Utah. The stay means that hundreds of marriages that occurred during the period while the state briefly recognized the legality of same-sex marriages, roughly a three-week span, are no longer legal in the predominantly Mormon state.
Hundreds of couples are now reeling following the decision to stay the decision previously made by Judge Robert Shelby.
“We were legally married,” says Aleksandra Eker, 26, who married her partner on Dec. 23, 2013. “To take that away is a travesty.”
There seems to be mounting confusion over what the stay means for same-sex marriages that occurred prior to the stay coming into effect. While Utah officials say very clearly that they are neither voiding nor nullifying the marriages that have occurred, many same-sex couples are struggling with the overall meaning of the stay.
Effectively, further same-sex marriages are put on hold until the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver makes a decision about whether or not the stay will reverse itself into an overall ban, as was the case prior to Judge Shelby’s decision weeks ago. What has caused the turmoil are the applications to put partners on adoption papers as adoptive paperwork, the applications for driver’s licenses or other official paperwork with new married names, and completing paperwork where the same sex partner will be put on a benefits plan.
One of the stickiest situations is one being faced by Weber County Clerk Ricky Hatch. He has been told by the governor’s office to set the marriage certificates for those same-sex marriages that were complete during the three weeks. The marriage certificates hadn’t been filled out due to his caseload, and now, he’s facing down angry same-sex couples wanting the official papers stating that they are married.
Utah governor Gary Herbert’s office is pleading for understanding and for patience while the matter gets sorted out in the courts. In a letter drafted to state agencies by governor chief of staff Derek Miller, the office asks for calm and says that there is no comment being made on the actual legal status of the marriages that have been completed during the time since Judge Shelby’s decision.
“Please understand this position is not to comment on the legal status of those same-sex marriages,” the letter said, adding that the legality or lack thereof of the marriages that have occurred is a matter for the courts and no one else.
It’s the argument by the governor’s office, however, that is causing some indignation by parents. Weston Clark, a stay at home dad, is now a proud father of two with partner Brandon Mark. In addition to a three-year-old son, the couple recently welcomed a 7-day-old daughter. He says that the decision by the Supreme Court and the subsequent letter from Governor Gary Herbert’s office is not wholly surprising, but it is disappointing. Many families are assuming that the governor has chosen to request a stay on the same-sex marriages to protect the state’s notion of family.
“His attempt to not recognize my marriage puts my kids in jeopardy and endangers their security,” Clark said. “If that’s what he believes is important to protect families, then I think his concept of protecting Utah families is all sorts of messed-up.”
A decision on the validity of the same-sex marriages that have occurred, as well as the marriage licenses that are now currently on hold, is expected in the coming days. Those seeking a same-sex marriage will have to wait for the outcome of the legal wrangling currently afoot about same-sex marriages. However, what remains clear is the devastation to families by bringing the validity of their same-sex marriages and the families involved in them is not going to be short-lived. One thing is certain; Utah’s action on same-sex marriage is devastating for families.
By Christina St. Jean