The American Civil Liberties Union has launched a lawsuit against the state of Utah over its refusal to recognize benefits for newly-married same-sex couples.
On Dec. 20, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, leading over 1,300 gay and lesbian couples to marry within the state. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert contested the ruling and within 17 days received an emergency stay on the ruling from the Supreme Court on Jan. 6. Almost immediately, Herbert announced that Utah would not recognize the same-sex marriages nor grant any new benefits to the same-sex couples who married within that window of time.
Now, the ACLU is suing the state of Utah, claiming no matter the result of the court hearing, the 1,300 same-sex couples who were married are entitled to all the benefits that straight married couples receive, the Associated Press reports. The ACLU announced its decision to sue Utah soon after Herbert’s statements, but the lawsuit was not formally filed until Tuesday.
When Utah received the Supreme Court-sanctioned emergency stay, Herbert instructed state agencies not to revoke any same-sex marriages or related benefits that had been granted, only to refuse to issue new benefits related to adoption, legal guardianship, health insurance and other issues.
“With the district court injunction now stayed, the original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts. It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex marriages. Based on counsel from the Attorney General’s Office regarding the Supreme Court decision, state recognition of same-sex marital status is ON HOLD until further notice,” Herbert announced.
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John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU in Utah, disagrees with Herbert’s decision not to recognize the pre-existing same-sex marriages. According to Mejia, it could take as long as a year for federal courts to make a final ruling on Utah’s same-sex marriage ban, leaving legally married couples in legal limbo for a significant amount of time.
"They've put a giant question mark over the lives of all these people that have married," Mejia told the Associated Press. "These families need to plan their lives going forward. We're seeking a declaration that these valid marriages must be recognized.”
While Utah refuses to view the same-sex marriages as valid, the federal government has not taken the same approach. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government will honor Utah’s same-sex marriages, allowing the 1,300 couples to jointly file federal taxes and receive spousal Social Security benefits.