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Court grants Utah stay in gay marriage case

SALT LAKE CITY – A federal appeals court on Thursday granted Utah’s request to delay the implementation of a ruling ordering state officials to start recognizing more than 1,000 gay marriages next week.

The decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prolongs the uncertainty for the gay and lesbian couples who married immediately after a judge overturned Utah’s same-sex marriage ban.

In May, a federal judge said the state’s decision to freeze benefits was harming the couples. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball ordered Utah to start recognizing the marriages Monday, allowing them to proceed with matters such as child custody, medical decisions and inheritance.

But Gov. Gary Herbert and state Attorney General Sean Reyes, both Republicans, appealed late Wednesday and requested the stay Thursday.

The 10th Circuit says the temporary stay is in effect until further notice. Plaintiffs have until next Thursday to respond.

The couples married over 17 days in late December and early January after the 2004 ban was overturned. The marriages stopped when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the ruling, pending an appeal now before the federal appeals court in Denver.

Reyes said in a statement Thursday he recognized the burden on the families stuck in legal limbo. But he said the state believes it’s best to wait for higher courts to rule on the ban.

John Mejia, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Utah, said the four gay couples who brought the lawsuit are disappointed in what they called the state’s “ill-advised” decision to appeal.

“It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars and resources, and it brings unnecessary uncertainty and disruption to the lives of these families,” Mejia said.

The state has spent about $300,000 paying three outside attorneys to defend its ban before the Denver appeals court, Utah attorney general spokeswoman Missy Larsen said. For this case, however, the office plans to continue using internal staff.

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