SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Local clerks in Utah can finish paperwork for same-sex marriages completed before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary halt on Monday, the state’s attorney general said Thursday.
Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office issued the legal advice to county clerks Thursday afternoon.
The directive comes as Utah officials struggle with the knotty legal mess that gay marriage created in the state in recent weeks.
More than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples took home marriage licenses from local clerks after a federal judge overturned Utah’s same-sex marriage ban on Dec. 20. Utah voters approved the ban in 2004.
The Supreme Court halted them Monday by granting Utah a stay on the federal judge’s ruling that two other courts previously denied.
The stay remains in effect while 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.
In Weber County, about 35 couples married before the ruling, but their marriage certificates were not recorded after county attorneys said to put them on hold. With the new legal guidance, those completed marriage certificates will now be processed, Weber County Clerk Ricky Hatch said in a statement late Thursday.
Reyes’ new advice was issued to clear up some confusion and only applies to marriages that were solemnized, said his spokeswoman, Missy Larsen.
“As long as the marital ceremony happened prior to the stay, then the marriage can receive documentation,” Larsen said.
The attorney general’s office said Thursday’s guidance is not a decision on whether the marriages are valid.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court will have the final word on that, Larsen said.
“We are not able to make that statement,” she said. “All we know is that Utah state law precludes them from being recognized.”
She also said gay couples that have their marriage licenses can have their marriage recognized in one of the 17 other states that do recognize same-sex marriages.
In the letter sent to county clerks, Reyes said that providing marriage certificates to those who wed while it was still legal is an administrative function, not a legal function, according to Utah law.
On Wednesday, Gov. Gary Herbert advised state agencies to freeze all actions regarding same-sex marriages until the appeals court makes a decision. That guidance left couples in various states of limbo, uncertain if or when they’ll be able to file taxes jointly, get health coverage for their spouses or have partners recognized as adoptive parents.
On Monday, the same day the Supreme Court ruling came down, Drew Sanders of Salt Lake City received a call from the county clerk with questions about the marriage license he had turned in. They were easily answered questions pertaining to writing that the clerk’s staffer didn’t understand, but Sanders began to worry if his marriage to longtime boyfriend Ryan Fischer would become official.
Those concerns grew on Wednesday when Herbert issued guidance to freeze gay marriage proceedings.
But Thursday’s advisory from the state attorney general came as welcome news for Sanders, who has not yet received his license.
Sanders said he and other same-sex couples still feel hurt over the state’s decision to not recognize the marriages by putting a freeze on all benefits.
“We’ve always felt like we’ve been treated as second-call citizens,” said Sanders, 52. “And when something like this happens, it’s like the governor went up to every single one of us and slapped us in the face.”
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said her office was already finishing the marriages that hadn’t been logged by Monday, and that as of Thursday, her office had sent out certified marriage certificates to all the same-sex couples that married before the Supreme Court ruling.
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