By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com January 21 2014 4:10 PM ET
The national American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Utah filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of four same-sex couples whose marriages have not been recognized by the state of Utah, even though those unions were legal when they were performed.
An estimated 1,360 same-sex couples were married in Utah between December 20 — when a federal judge struck down the state's constitutional ban on performing or recognizing same-sex marriages — and January 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court put the same-sex weddings in Utah on hold pending the state's appeal.
Just two days after the Supreme Court granted a stay, Utah governor Gary Herbert's office announced that his administration, and by extension, the state, would not recognizes as valid the same-sex marriages performed during the 17 days they were legal. But last week Utah's Tax Commission announced that it would allow those legally married same-sex couples who wed in Utah or any other marriage equality state to file joint state tax returns.
The ACLU's suit in Utah state court aims to provide clarity for the families whose legal marriage status remains in limbo. Citing the due process clauses of the Utah and U.S. constitutions, attorneys for the ACLU contend that rights cannot be rescinded after they have been granted by a ceremony that's considered legal at the time it took place.
"These couples were legally married under Utah law and their unions must be treated the same as any other Utah marriage," said John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, in a statement today. "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."
The new lawsuit is entirely separate from the case that briefly brought marriage equality to Utah, currently pending before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The ACLU filed an amicus brief in that federal case, but stressed that today's filing has critical importance for thousands of families headed by LGBT Utahns.
"We acted as soon as we could to make sure our family could stay together in case, heaven forbid, something happens to one of us," said Matthew Barrazza, a lifelong Uthan who is the adoptive father of Jesse, the son he is raising with his husband Tony Milner. Milner currently is not recognized as their son’s parent, and second-parent adoption proceedings have stalled because the state where the family lives won't recognize their marriage, according to the ACLU. "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."