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In Your Face Utah: Feds Will Recognize Utah Gay Marriages

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on January 10, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Utah was the 18th state to recognize same-sex marriage -- for a total of 18 days, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In what has been a very busy month, with a dizzying array of motions and orders, the Utah same-sex marriage case, a/k/a Herbert v. Kitchen, has made its way from district court, to the Tenth Circuit, to the Supreme Court, and back to the Tenth.

And while the state of Utah has said that it won't recognize the gay marriages that were legally performed during those fateful 18 days, the federal government had something different to say about the matter.

Whew. Confused yet? Here's a breakdown.

The Decision

On December 20, 2013, Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled that Amendment 3 of Utah's Constitution violated the due process rights and equal protection of the laws, of same-sex couples seeking to marry, under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. What made this decision more surprising, is that it came out of one of the "most socially conservative states," reports The New York Times. But you know it didn't end there.

To Stay, or Not to Stay

In a surprising twist, the state of Utah raised concern for married same-sex couples when, arguing to Judge Shelby for a stay of his decision allowing same-sex marriages to proceed, that those couples would "face a cloud of uncertainty" if the decision were overturned on appeal. Judge Shelby was not convinced.

Not to be outdone, Utah then asked the Tenth Circuit to stay the decision, but that court was equally unconvinced, and denied the motion. Apparently, the third court's the charm, as Utah found success with its application for stay in the Supreme Court. In a two-sentence decision, Justice Sotoymayor, who is tasked with reviewing emergency requests originating in the Tenth Circuit, granted Utah's application for stay.

Eric Holder's Statement

You didn't actually think that was all, did you? Today, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement (also in nifty video form) declaring that the United States will recognize the valid same-sex marriages performed in Utah during the 18-day respite.

Relying on Windsor, Holder stated that under federal law, "these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages." Noting that "families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds," he added, "we will continue to coordinate across the federal government to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit to which Utah couples and couples throughout the country are entitled -- regardless of whether they in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages."

For now, Utah married same-sex couples will receive federal benefits, though their fate is still unknown. The state's appeal will receive expedited review, according to SCOTUSblog, with briefing set to begin on January 27, and end on February 25.

As of now, no hearing date has been set.

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