Federal judge orders Utah to respect 1,300 marriage licenses it issued

Today, May 19, U.S. District Court judge Dale Kimball ruled that the state of Utah must respect the nearly 1,300 marriage licenses it issued to same-sex couples in December and January of this year. The ruling is the 18th consecutive victory in state and federal court for the freedom to marry since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Windsor v. United States in June 2013. The ruling is the 14th win in federal court for marriage since June.

Judge Kimball's ruling was in Evans v. Utah, a federal case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Utah, and Strindberg & Scholnick, LLC. The judge is a prominent member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has served in many leadership positions within the church, including bishop, high councilor, stake president, and Regional representative of the Twelve.

The judge wrote:

The court has already weighed and balanced the harms involved in issuing its preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs have demonstrated existing clear and irreparable harms if an injunction is not in place.

As discussed above, the balance of harms is necessarily tied to the merits of the decision because harm to Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights are given significantly more weight than the State’s harm in not being able to apply its marriage bans retroactively to legally-entered marriages. 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.

Read the full ruling here.

The ruling is on hold for the next 21 days, meaning that the state of Utah could appeal the decision. The state is currently in the middle of an appeal in Kitchen v. Herbert, the December 2013 ruling that struck down the state's anti-marriage Amendment 3 and paved the way for all of these families to legally marry in the state. 

The ACLU explained today: "Today’s preliminary injunction is not a permanent order, but it reflects the court’s determination that the plaintiffs’ are likely to prevail on their legal claims and would suffer irreparable harm if their marriages were stripped of recognition. Today’s order was given a 21-day stay to allow the state to respond."

Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson celebrated the ruling today. He said:

Nearly 1,300 committed couples paid their fees, were issued marriage licenses, stood before family and friends, and got married – and the court was right to hold that they should be treated as what they are: married. Many others also want to take on that legal commitment and are being denied, and the litigation continues, as must our work in Utah and nationwide. The appeals courts and the Supreme Court should rule against marriage discrimination, just as the judge did today. America is ready for the freedom to marry.

Judges have struck down marriage bans now in 7 states in the past few months: Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Idaho, and now Oregon. More limited decisions in favor of the freedom to marry have been handed down in Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio, and now Utah again.

More than 70 cases are currently pending in state and federal court in more than 30 states and territories across the United States. 

Read more about marriage litigation HERE.