By Elizabeth Weise
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced Wednesday that the state will not recognize the 1,000-plus same-sex marriages performed in the state since Dec. 20, when a U.S. district judge ruled that the state's ban on gay marriage violated gay and lesbian couples' constitutional rights.
"The original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts," the governor's office said in a memo issued to his Cabinet.
"We're not going to do anything to undo marriages," said Missy Larsen, spokeswoman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. "If they have a driver's license with their marital name on it, it stands. But wherever they were in the process, it's frozen."
That means that same-sex couples who were married since the Dec. 20 ruling who might be in the process of applying for benefits for spouses or adopting children will have those actions put on hold.
Same-sex couples who have gotten marriage licenses but have not yet had weddings are not legally married, Larsen said. "The ceremony had to have taken place. It had to have been solemnized."
Gov. Herbert's chief of staff, Derek Miller, sent a memo saying state law not only prohibits same-sex marriages but also prohibits the state recognizing them.
Utah is not commenting on the legal status of the same-sex marriages already performed, the memo said.
Paul Smith, an appeals lawyer who successfully argued the 2003 Supreme Court case that overturned more than a dozen state sodomy laws, said gay and lesbian couples who were given licenses and had a wedding are duly married. "The law can't involuntarily undo that relationship once it's created," he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to same-sex marriages in Utah on Monday while the state appeals the ruling by Judge Robert Shelby that legalized the unions.
The justices, acting on a petition sent to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, ruled that gay marriages could not continue during the appeal process. The case is pending before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Salt Lake County clerk Sherrie Swensen's office issued 1,061 marriage licenses in the nine-day window between Judge Shelby's ruling and the court's stay on Monday. She believes that a large number of them were to same-sex couples but doesn't know how many of those couples had time to get married before the stay was issued.
She's now trying to find out if she can refund money for couples who purchased licenses and weren't able to use them "through no fault of their own."
"It's $40. Their license will expire in 30 days, long before this is resolved. So I think that's the fair thing to do," she said.
Despite two landmark Supreme Court decisions in June that vastly expanded same-sex marriage rights in states from Maine to California, gay and lesbian couples in 33 states, including Utah, remain outside the bonds of matrimony.
The court ruled in August that gay marriages could resume in California because opponents challenging lower-court rulings lacked standing to appeal. In that case, gays and lesbians had been barred from marrying until the appeals had run out, but those who wed after the original 2008 state Supreme Court decision remained legally married.
The justices also struck down a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that it discriminated against married same-sex couples by denying them federal benefits granted to married heterosexual couples. The reasoning in that more sweeping decision was used by Shelby in legalizing Utah gay marriages.
The decision comes as a blow to Staci Vest, 45, and her fiancée, Mayling Ruiz, 46. The West Jordan couple got their marriage license two weeks ago and had planned to have their wedding Jan. 24 so Vest's daughter could fly in for the ceremony.
"I have three older children that all wanted to be a part of it, so we were postponing for a couple of weeks until we could get everybody together," Vest said. The two have been a couple for 13 years.
They had chosen their wedding venue. "We paid for it already. We won't be able to get our money back. I don't know what I'm going to do on that," she said. "They'll let you reschedule another date, but how do we know when we're going to be able to get married?"
Contributing: Richard Wolf in Washington