Utah Must Recognize Same-Sex Marriages Performed Before Injunction

In a minor, but still important, victory for marriage equality, a Federal Judge in Utah ruled yesterday that the state must recognize the marriages performed during the time earlier this year after the states ban on same-sex marriage was struck down and before an injunction was issued to the granting of additional licenses:

A federal judge ruled Monday that Utah must recognize and imbue all same-sex marriages performed in the state with the same rights and privileges afforded to married opposite-sex couples.

Chief among those rights, the judge noted, are the right to property, inheritance, legal protection and “the custody and care of children” — an issue at the center of a state challenge to three state court judge’s decisions to grant adoptions to married gay couples.

U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball became the first federal judge ever to order a state to acknowledge and honor all gay and lesbian marriages performed after the state’s ban on same-sex unions was overturned.

About 1,300 same-sex couples were granted marriage licenses in Utah during a 17-day window that extended from the day U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby overturned Utah’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages to the day the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay, halting all such weddings.

In that time, more than 1,000 of those marriages were solemnized in a formal ceremony, making them legal and binding under Utah law, Kimball ruled.

“Although the state has a general interest in representing the wishes of its voters, that interest does not outweigh the harms [same-sex couples] face by having their constitutional rights violated,” the judge wrote. “Governor Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes shall immediately recognize the marriages by same-sex couples entered pursuant to Utah marriage licenses issued and solemnized between December 20, 2013, and January 6, 2014, and afford these same-sex marriages all the protections benefits and responsibilities given to all marriages under Utah law.”

Kimball’s decision will not take effect for 21 days, giving the state time to file an appeal if it so chooses.

As of Monday evening, the governor and attorney general seemed undecided as to Utah’s next course of action.

This seems to me like an entirely reasonable outcome. During the 17 day period at issue here, same-sex marriages were legal in the state of Utah and County Clerks had no legal basis upon which they could refuse to issue them to couples who otherwise met the legal requirements for a marriage license. Those couples relied in good faith on the Court’s Order and the issuance of the licenses. Regardless of what happens to the case on appeal, they should not be penalized.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Quick Takes, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. KM says:

    Those couples relied in good faith on the Court’s Order and the issuance of the licenses.

    Doug, you’re assuming Utah has good faith to act on. That a judge had to issue a ruling on something as common sense as this indicates that the state really doesn’t have an interest in good faith unless they are compelled to. Legal is legal is legal. Whether or not you find it moral is another story, but the law’s the law.

    One reason to not acknowledge the marriages is the precedent it sets. Utah would rather do an Orwellian Retcon then give up legal ground they can never get back. What makes sense to you and me is the death of a thousand cuts to their cause.