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Court orders Utah to recognize same-sex marriages

Gabriel Bouys / AFP

A federal court has ordered Utah to recognize same-sex marriages carried out during a brief period in which those unions were legal in the state.

If the order holds, it could be big news for the more than 1,300 same-sex couples married in Utah this winter, after a federal judge struck down the state's ban on December. A higher court took until January 6 to put the ruling on hold as it works through the appeals process.

That allowed same-sex couples in Utah more than two weeks to get legally married. And while the federal government opted to recognize these marriages, the state government did not.

The preliminary injunction order, from US District Judge Dale Kimball, means the state government must recognize these couples' marriages even as same-sex marriage remains illegal in the state.

Because the couples got married when same-sex marriage was legal, the court argued that trying to enforce a same-sex marriage ban on these couples would be a retroactive application of the law. "Utah law has a strong presumption against retroactive application of laws," Kimball wrote.

The court, however, temporarily stayed the ruling for 21 days to allow the state government to seek an appeal. That means Utah's married same-sex couples will have to wait at least 21 days — or more, if a higher court applies a permanent stay as the case works through appeals process — to have their marriages recognized by the state government.

Update: After Utah Governor Gary Herbert appealed the decision, a court put Judge Kimball's order on hold until the case works through appeals.