Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

Judge orders Utah to recognize certain same-sex marriages

For over the last decade, states and the federal government have played a tug-of-war game with those fighting for the right of same-sex marriage. With publicity, shifts in the public's perception of same-sex marriage and countless lawsuits, the trend is slowly changing in favor of same-sex marriage. While the change is ongoing, tens of thousands of couples are left in legal limbo while waiting for the decision of judge after judge as the cases make their way through and up the legal system. Married and dating same-sex couples in Utah now have a new reason to hope after a federal judge's recent ruling.

Over 1,000 same-sex couples were married in Utah during the three weeks in which same-sex marriage was legal in the state. These couples have a special status in the state, as they are legally married in a state that has a ban on same-sex marriage. Although the decision granting same-sex couples the ability to marry in Utah is currently on appeal, the judge in this case ordered Utah officials to recognize the same-sex marriages that occurred in the state from December 20-January 6. The judge issued a 21-day hold on his ruling to allow the state time to appeal his ruling.

In coming to his decision, the judge noted that the state had placed the married couples in "legal limbo" when they decided to freeze their benefits and that such a freeze violated the couple's rights. If not appealed, the judge's decision means that those 1,000 plus married couples can now continue actions for adoption, child custody and other dealings which require state involvement. Even without an appeal, the ruling stands in conflict with a Utah's Supreme Court order halting the issuance of birth certificates to same-sex parents.

Family law is a unique area of law, as it intrudes upon the most important area of many people's lives, their family. A single decision can affect the lives and homes of countless people for decades to come, either bringing families closer together or tearing them apart.

Source: The Province, "Judge orders Utah to recognize gay marriages from before Supreme Court stay, grant benefits" Brady McCombs, May 19, 2014

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