SALT LAKE CITY — More than 1,000 couples who rushed to wed after a judge overturned Utah’s gay marriage ban will have to keep waiting for many of the legal benefits of being married following an appeals court decision Thursday.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Utah’s request to delay the implementation of a ruling that ordered state officials to start recognizing the marriages next week.
The Denver-based judges gave the four same-sex couples who sued Utah until next Thursday to file papers laying out why the order should be implemented. The court must next choose whether to lift or extend the temporary stay.
The 10th Circuit’s ruling came less than a day after Gov. Gary Herbert and state Attorney General Sean Reyes, both Republicans, announced late Wednesday they would appeal a federal judge’s May ruling. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball had found the state’s decision to freeze benefits was harming the couples.
Kimball order, which was to take effect Monday, would have forced the state to start recognizing the marriages, allowing the couples to proceed with matters such as child custody, medical decisions and inheritance.
The couples married over 17 days in late December and early January after a judge struck down the state’s 2004 ban. The marriages stopped when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed that ruling, pending an appeal now before the 10th Circuit. That court has heard arguments, and a ruling is expected soon.
State officials said the marriages shouldn’t be recognized until everybody has guidance from higher courts on the constitutionality of Utah’s ban.
Herbert worked closely with Reyes in analyzing all options, deciding it was “important that clarity and finality are provided by the highest courts,” his spokesman Marty Carpenter said in a statement.
Reyes said in a statement Thursday that he recognized the burden on the families stuck in legal limbo. But he said the state believes it’s best to wait for higher courts to rule on the ban.
John Mejia, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Utah, said the couples who brought the lawsuit are disappointed in what they called the state’s “ill-advised” decision to appeal.
“It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars and resources, and it brings unnecessary uncertainty and disruption to the lives of these families,” Mejia said.
The state has spent about $300,000 paying three outside attorneys to defend its ban before the 10th Circuit, Utah attorney general spokeswoman Missy Larsen said. For this case, however, the office plans to continue using internal staff.