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The Utah Supreme Court on Thursday lifted a stay which had barred from completion four pending adoptions of children by their same-sex parents.
The action clears the way for the Utah Department of Health to issue birth certificates that list the same-sex parents as the children's legal parents. It will also restart countless other adoptions that were left in limbo by Utah's contention that the cases should be on hold until it was clear that gay marriage would be legal in the Beehive state.
"The families involved are obviously relieved and thrilled," said Laura Milliken Gray, an attorney who represented one of the four families, and who also had six other adoptions in process when the stay was put in place.
The court's action was not unexpected, she said.
The Utah Attorney General's Office asked the state's high court to lift the stay and any pending petitions for extraordinary relief.
Utah's reversal on the issue came two weeks ago when the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ended Utah's legal battle over the recognition of same-sex marriages and its associated rights, including adoption.
Previously, so-called second parents had no legal rights to their children.
That followed an Oct. 6 move by the U.S. Supreme Court, which let stand appeals court rulings upholding marriage equality in five states, effectively legalizing gay marriage in Utah and 10 other states.
"This rectifies a major injustice," said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. "Families all over Utah are celebrating having their families united."
About 26 percent of Utah's same-sex couples are raising children, data from the University of California, Los Angeles-based Williams Institute shows. In the two weeks since same-sex marriage became legal in Utah, gay couples have rushed to start or finalize adoption petitions, so that their children will have two legal parents and full protections under state law, Gray said.
"I probably have a dozen new families from here to Cedar City," she said. "They're hurrying because some families worry that the Legislature is going to try and do something that will once again interfere with their rights."
Some conservative lawmakers have said that in the wake of court-ordered legalized gay marriage, they plan to examine those aspects of Utah law that relate to marriage to see if the existing statutes need to be redrafted. That includes looking at laws related to tax benefits, health care insurance, inheritance laws and parental rights.
Williams, acknowledging that such efforts may come, said: "The simple truth is that now, all Utah families are equal under the law. We will never roll the clock back on that."
Tribune reporter Michael McFall contributed to this story.