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Utah orders state agencies not to honor same-sex marriages

Courtesy Of Amy Fowler

Amy Fowler, center, and Pidge Winburn, left, look on as their officiant Cliff Rosky signs paperwork after their marriage on Dec. 23.

Utah has ordered state offices not do anything that would recognize more than 1,000 same-sex marriages performed in the two weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court put a temporary halt to gay nuptials.

The state is not declaring those unions void, but said agencies should take no action that would give any legal recognition to them.

"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," Derek Miller, chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert, wrote in a memo Wednesday.

"The intent of this communication is to direct state agency compliance with current laws that prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages."

Rick D'Elia / EPA

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert

The directive came as a blow to many newlyweds, who won't be able to file joint state tax returns or proceed with second-parent adoptions.

"It’s like getting the big piece of chocolate cake and never getting to eat it," said Amy Fowler, 35, an attorney stood on line for eight hours to marry partner Pidge Winburn, 37, on Dec. 23.

"It was one thing when we didn’t even have those rights, we knew it wasn’t a possibility," she said. "Then these doors open and you start to plan things and you start to have this sense of empowerment that you get the things everyone gets — and it gets taken away from your.

"And that is really hard."

A federal judge's ruling on Dec. 20 declared the heavily Mormon state's voter-approved ban on gay marriages unconstitutional and hundreds of couples rushed to get licenses.

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued an emergency order putting a hold on new marriages until 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the case. A deadline has been set for the end of February for briefs to be filed in the case.

According to the governor's memo, any state recognition that has been given so far remains in effect, but no new actions can be taken.

"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," the memo says. 

Read: From wedded bliss to legal limbo

Peggy Tomsic, a lawyer who represented gay couples in the original challenge to the ban, said the governor's guidance has "needlessly destabilized" the newly married couples.

"Regardless of how the State believes the Tenth Circuit will ultimately rule, these couples are legally married and the State should treat them accordingly," she said.

Heidi Justice, 31, a Salt Lake City resident who is 14 weeks pregnant, said the directive could derail their plans for putting the name of both her and her wife, Jamie Justice, 28, on the birth certificate.

"It was a big emotional hit," she said. "I’m just angry he [Herbert] feels like he can go and do it when it’s unprecedented to invalidate marriages that were performed legally. We will fight it however we can."


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