The state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah between Dec. 20, 2013, and Jan. 6, 2014.
That was the ruling Monday from U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball -- the latest in a string of recent legal decisions affecting the rights of homosexuals in Utah and the United States.
In the two weeks following U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby's landmark Dec. 20, 2013, ruling that Utah's ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, approximately 1,300 same-sex couples were wed in the state. The issuance of marriage licenses was halted on Jan. 6, when the Supreme Court granted the State of Utah a temporary stay on Shelby's ruling. The stay put a halt to any new marriages, but it did not affect the 1,300 that had already been performed.
The next day, Jan. 7, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's office emailed instructions to his cabinet members stating that "state recognition of same-sex marital status is ON HOLD until further notice." Utah's attorney general, Sean Reyes, sided with the governor, stating "We are unable to reach a legal conclusion as to the ultimate validity of marriage between persons of the same sex who completed their marriage ceremony in Utah between Dec 20, 2013 and Jan. 6, 2014."
Those events combined to create a "legal limbo" of uncertainty, as Kimball described it, for those 1,300 couples.
Now, they can breathe a little easier.
"It's been a roller coaster for sure," Ivan Broman told The Park Record this week. Broman is a Park City architect who married his partner of 28 years, Gene Bradford, on Christmas Eve.
"We've been wanting to do it for a long time," he said. "In fact we had planned to go to San Francisco to get married on New Year's Eve and had the slot reserved at City Hall in San Francisco and then this all came down."
"We were so surprised by the judge's ruling," Broman said.
"And so we got married here and then we went and celebrated in San Francisco on New Year's Eve," he said.
Another Park City couple, Heather Miller and Kelly Vickers, also took advantage of the surprising holiday-season marriage window.
The couple has a 3-year-old boy named Calder. While Vickers, who carried Calder, is the legal mother, Miller is only a legal guardian. Securing full parental rights for Miller was the biggest reason they wanted to wed. They had even been considering leaving the state over the issue.
When news of Shelby's decision spread, Miller immediately contacted her lawyer, who advised her to move quickly.
On Dec. 23, with Miller's mother, sister and brother in law in town for the holidays, she married Vickers in Coalville.
The couple held off on their next big step -- to have Miller legally adopt Calder -- until there was a formal decision validating their marriage. That was what happened Monday.
"It's in the works right now," Miller said about adoption proceedings. She then plans to change her last name, so the family all has the same one.
"Our big thing," she said, "honestly is more like, just being a family."
Broman is sympathetic to Miller's struggle.
"I don't get the not being able to have kids part," he said. "That really probably bothers me more than anything. Because gay people that have children really make an effort to have kids. It's not an accidental pregnancy, you know they really struggled to get a child -- either through adoption or artificial insemination -- and they want to have a kid. There are so many straight people that have kids that don't really care, aren't very good to their kids, but I think every gay couple I know that has kids, they're really loving parents. They deserve that right to have a kid."
There are many other practical benefits for legally married couples.
"For us, the big thing was Social Security and also the medical reasons -- you know, being able to visit your partner in the hospital," Broman said, "is very important if one of us got sick. And then the Social Security benefit, you know if we weren't married, if I should die, it wouldn't be passed on to Gene like it does to every other married couple. And that's a pretty big benefit for the remaining spouse."
The state did recognize the marriages in joint state tax filings for 2013, which can be another key benefit for married couples. "We laugh at that, because it didn't help us, it hurt us this year," Miller said. "But who cares."
In his Monday decision, Judge Kimball wrote that the same-sex couples who brought the lawsuit "face significant irreparable harms to themselves and their families -- inability to inherit, inability to adopt, loss of custody, lost benefits. The State, however, has demonstrated no real harm in continuing to recognize Plaintiffs' legally-entered marriages."
Though he noted that he was not obligated to do so, Kimball "stayed" his ruling for 21 days, allowing the state an opportunity to appeal. As of Friday, Gov. Herbert had not detailed whether and how the state might appeal the decision, but he struck a defiant tone during a news conference on Thursday.
"We have a law created by the people of Utah and we need to defend that law to the very end," the governor said.
"The definition of marriage over thousands, millennia of time has been between one man and one woman. Well this is a new day, I understand that. And mores may be changing, but we have a law on the books that needs to be defended," he said.