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ACLU sues Utah for not recognizing legally married gay couples

With marriages on hold, couples 'suffering real, immediate harm': lawyer

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued Utah over its decision not to recognize the marriages of gay couples who tied the knot after a federal judge struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban. Credit: wikimedia.org

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit in Utah state court Jan 21 on behalf of four same-sex couples who got married after a gay marriage ban was struck down but whose unions were put on hold by the state pending appeal. 

John Mejía, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, says the couples were legally married under Utah law and their marriages must be treated like any other marriage in the state. "Even our attorney general said that the marriages were entitled to full recognition by the state at the time they were performed. Regardless of what ultimately happens in the federal challenge to Utah's marriage ban, the marriages that already occurred are valid and must be recognized now," Mejía says.

Matthew Barrazza has a four-year-old son, Jesse, with his husband, Tony Milner, who is currently not recognized as a parent. "We just want the peace of mind of knowing that whatever happens, Jesse has security of knowing his other parent will take care of and provide for him. Now, because the state refuses to recognize our marriage, this peace of mind is again out of reach," Barrazza says, according to an ACLU statement.

Barrazza and Milner are among more than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples who tied the knot after the ban was struck down by a federal court judge Dec 20.

After failing to obtain a stay of the ruling, Utah state officials turned to the US Supreme Court, which granted the request Jan 6, stopping additional marriages from taking place, pending appeal. Governor Gary Herbert then issued a statement, saying that gay marriages that took place in Utah after the ban prohibiting them was struck down will not be recognized by the state.

The Obama administration subsequently weighed in, saying that the federal government will recognize as lawful the same-sex marriages of couples who wed after the ban was struck down. 

Meanwhile, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the state's appeal of the ruling that struck down the gay-marriage ban.

Utah state officials have been given a weeklong extension to file their brief before the appeals court.