The legal battle over same-sex marriage took a dramatic turn on Wednesday, as Utah Gov. Gary Hebert stated that Utah will not recognize the same-sex marriages performed during the 17 days between Judge Robert J. Shelby’s ruling and the stay issued by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.
Hebert directed state agencies to cease recognizing same-sex marriages. Hebert’s chief of staff, Derek Miller, emailed the Utah cabinet members on Tuesday, saying, “It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex marriages.”
The Supreme Court issued a stay on same-sex marriages Monday, opening the door to questions about the validity of marriages already performed.
Richard Price, assistant professor of Political science at Weber State University said this is a unique situation.
“It’s not happened in same-sex marriage litigation before,” said Price. He said this is the only time marriages continued during the appeals process and that he thinks Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes made a mistake by not asking for the stay earlier in the litigation. “There has never been a time where valid marriage licensees were revoked in retrospect.”
Hebert’s statement sent shock waves through the state and the WSU campus.
“We were so close, so progressive for that one moment, and I feel like the floor has been taken out (from under us),” said Karlee Berezay, an LBGT advocate at WSU. “The hardest part about being someone who is an advocate and a person who is a member of the LBGT community is the roller-coaster ride of the last 20 days.”
After Shelby’s ruling on Dec. 20, more than 1,000 same-sex Utah couples rushed to courthouses to get married. Utah State Sen. Jim Dabakis, representative for Salt Lake City, wed his partner of 27 years.
“It’s a tremendously arrogant usurpation of power by the governor to just assume if he doesn’t like people, he can just decree to end legal and lawful marriages,” Dabakis said.
For couples who married during the 17-day period when it was legal, questions continue to rise, the issues ranging from federal taxes to adoption rights and medical decisions. Price said the state courts are going to have to work out those issues.
“It’s one thing saying you can’t do it; it’s another thing saying you did it, but it doesn’t count anymore,” said WSU senior Mark Zigweid. “Even straights can identify with the idea of ‘oh, I’m sorry, your marriage doesn’t exist anymore.’”
Amid their anger and confusion, though, some LGBT rights advocates see a silver lining in the situation.
“Every time we make the news, we get more support,” Zigweid said. “Every time people see things like us losing rights, we get more support. I feel really bad for the people losing what they have, but I hope they know it only gets us another step in the way we need to go.”
The next step in the process will be an appeal before the 10th Court of Appeals in Denver, Colo. Both sides will make their case before a panel of three judges. After that ruling, either side can petition the court to have the entire district court hear the case, and attorneys could then petition the Supreme Court to hear the case.
Price said that whether the Supreme Court hears the case or not depends largely on what the 10th Court of Appeals decides.
“If they uphold Judge Shelby’s ruling, they will have to hear the case. If they overturn his ruling, I think it’s a strong possibility they will refuse to hear the case.”