A federal judge ordered the state of Utah Monday to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed in the brief window between the moment the state's ban was struck down and a stay was issued barring any more same-sex marriages from being performed in the state.
"Our clients, like over 1,000 other same-sex couples, were legally married and those marriages cannot now be taken away from them," John Mejia of the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement. "While we await a permanent decision, we are relieved that our clients will receive the full recognition they deserve as lawfully married couples."
Shortly after Utah's ban on same-sex marriage was struck down last December, the state appealed the decision and requested that same-sex marriages in the state be halted. Around a thousand couples were married in between December 20 and January 6, when the stay was issued. The federal government announced they would be recognizing Utah's marriages, but state officials in Utah said they would not.
Four couples represented by the Utah chapter of the ACLU and the law firm Strindberg & Scholnick sued to have their unions recognized. Federal Judge Dale Kimball, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, wrote that the harm to the same-sex couples in not having their marriages recognized was far greater than the harm done to the state in recognizing them.
"Plaintiffs have demonstrated existing clear and irreparable harms if an injunction is not in place," Kimball wrote. "The irreparable nature of Plaintiffs harms involve fundamental rights such as the ability to adopt, the ability to inherit, child care and custody issues, and other basic rights that would otherwise remain in legal limbo. For these reasons, the court cannot conclude that the harm to the State outweighs the harm to Plaintiffs during pendency of the appeal."
The ruling is a victory for Utah's same-sex couples, but the battle isn't over. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is still considering Utah's appeal of the ruling striking down its ban on same-sex marriage, which means the ultimate fate of Utah's same-sex couples is still in question. With federal judges striking down same-sex marriage bans all over the country, most legal observers expect the U.S. Supreme Court to have the final say.