Supreme Court Complicates Gay Marriages in Utah
Michael Mathie proposed to his partner Tyler McCraley on Christmas. The next day, they joined the historic rush of same-sex couples getting marriage licenses in Utah.
But unlike many couples who solemnized their vows in impromptu ceremonies in the lobby of county clerks offices, Mathie and McCraley decided to wait to hold a ceremony so Mathie’s two children could be involved. They were planning the ceremony this weekend.
But, they waited too long.
They are among dozens, maybe hundreds, of couples who missed out on their chance to be legally married in Utah.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided on Monday to bring a temporary halt to the marriages until the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers the long-term question of whether gay couples have a right to wed in Utah.
That means couples who did not solemnize the marriage before the ruling won’t be considered legally married, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said. A marriage license itself means nothing unless there is a ceremony with an officiator and two witnesses, she said.
"We were totally devastated," McCraley said. "The biggest push for us to get married is to show the kids we were in this for the long haul. We definitely wanted them to be a part of it."
County clerks have yet to tabulate how many same-sex couples who obtained licenses failed to make their unions official, but Megan Risbon of the Utah Pride Center estimates there be may a couple hundred people who fall into this category. More than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples took home marriage licenses in the past two weeks.
The uncertainty surrounding the marriages is emblematic of the confusion resonating throughout Utah after a two-week rush on gay marriages was brought to a sudden halt. Questions remain about taxes, adoptions and health insurance for the newly-married couples.
"The legal landscape is changing by the minute," said attorney Laura Milliken Gray, who represents many same-sex couples. "We’re trying to figure out exactly what it means in an area where everything is unprecedented."
On Wednesday, Gov. Gary Herbert issued guidance to state agencies instructing them not recognize same-sex marriages given out during the two weeks. But, he also said benefits obtained by the newlyweds during the two weeks should not be revoked.
For instance, if a couple changed their names on a driver’s license already, that license should not be revoked, Herbert said. But, since all the laws revert back to before the federal judge’s Dec. 20 ruling, couples trying to change their name now on a driver’s license will not be allowed to do so, he said.