The Utah state government has decided to disregard same-sex marriages performed between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6 pending resolution of the court case that allowed them.
Derek Miller, chief of staff to Utah's Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, sent a letter Wednesday instructing state agencies to suspend their recognition of marital rights for gay couples, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.
"Wherever individuals are in the process of availing themselves of state services related to same-sex marital status, that process is on hold and will stay exactly in that position until a final court decision is issued," Miller's letter said. "Please understand this position is not intended to comment on the legal status of those same-sex marriages. That is for the courts to decide."
An estimated 1,300 same-sex marriages were performed in Utah before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay Monday of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby's decision authorizing them.
Shelby and a two-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit previously refused to stay the order. The appeals court said the state was unlikely to prevail on appeal and had not proven irreparable harm would be caused by continued marriages.
Shelby ruled Utah's ban on same-sex marriage violated the 14th Amendment's due process and equal protection guarantees for gay and lesbian Utahans. He rested part of his decision on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's June 2013 dissent in Windsor v. U.S., A majority of justices ruled in that case a section of the Defense of Marriage Act prohibiting federal recognition of state same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Scalia predicted the majority's logic could be applied to state bans.
A similar state of marital limbo existed for 18,000 California couples who got married between May and November 2008, between the state supreme court's decision allowing same-sex marriage and the ratification of voter-approved Proposition 8, which banned it.
The California couples, however, faced a different landscape. Unlike in Utah, California allowed domestic partnerships that provided almost identical rights. And because the federal government at the time did not recognize same-sex marriages many of the pre-eminent rights of marriage – including immigration rights and the right to file joint federal tax returns – were not in question.
It's currently unclear how the federal government will treat the Utah marriages.
The IRS, which announced in August it will accept joint returns from same-sex couples who were legally married in any state – even if their home state does not recognize the marriage – did not immediately respond to a request for clarification. The federal tax-filing deadline is April 15.
"If the [IRS] did not adopt a uniform rule of recognition, the attribution of property interests could change when a same-sex couple moves from one state to another with different marriage recognition rules," the tax-collecting agency said in August. "This would lead to uncertainty for both taxpayers and the [IRS]."
The California marriages performed in 2008 were upheld as valid by the state supreme court in May 2009, but new marriages were not allowed in the state until the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2013 decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry. The court said Proposition 8 supporters lacked standing to defend the ban, which allowed the district court ruling against the ban to stand.
In Utah, it's unclear if lawyers will sue in state court in an attempt to win conditional recognition for the 1,300 marriages. James Magleby, an attorney who helped win the initial federal court ruling on behalf of six clients, did not immediately reply to a voicemail request for comment.
But Magleby's law firm urged married same-sex couples to "consult an attorney to obtain legal advice regarding their individual circumstances" during the federal appeals process in a press release.
In addition to unclear federal rights and state tax filing, the couples whose marriages are now "on hold" will not able allowed to jointly adopt children and may be unable to add their spouses to insurance policies.