SALT LAKE CITY – The state of Utah is being sued over its refusal to recognize about 1,000 same-sex marriages performed before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling temporarily halted marriage equality in the state.
John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, said his organization filed a lawsuit in state court Tuesday, asking the court to force the state to recognize the marriages. He said the couples involved are being denied the legal rights enjoyed by married couples.
“The contention we make is that these couples gain vested rights in their marriages at the moment that they marry,” he said, “and that the state is required to recognize those marriages.”
Last month, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby overturned Amendment 3 to the Utah state constitution, which had defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The U.S. Supreme Court then granted a temporary injunction stopping the marriages while the state of Utah continues its legal effort to overturn Shelby’s ruling.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced earlier this month that the federal government will recognize the same-sex marriages performed in Utah. That action allows the couples to enjoy the federal benefits that marriage includes, Mejia said, but the couples are being denied benefits at the state level, which can have critical consequences.
Mejia asked, “Can they add people to their insurance policies? Will the adoptions go through? If they go to the hospital, will they be able to make decisions for their spouse?”
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of four same-sex couples. Mejia said one of the couples has an adoption on hold because the state won’t recognize their marriage.