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Utah's governor and attorney general sent letters to state and county officials Monday directing that same-sex marriages be recognized and that all legal benefits associated with marriage be bestowed on couples who take advantage of this new right.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said he was surprised and disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped the issue, which in effect legalized same-sex marriages here, but he accepts the decision.
"We are a state and a people who believe in upholding the law of the land and that has been determined for us today in a way that may be not satisfactory for some, but it is the law of the land," he said in a 15-minute news conference with GOP Attorney General Sean Reyes.
Herbert called the legalization of same-sex marriages, spurred by lower court rulings, "groundbreaking. This is of great significance to our culture and to the laws of the land."
More than half of Utahns oppose gay marriage, as does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the state's dominant religion.
Recognizing that this is an emotional issue in a state where so many disagree with same-sex marriage, Herbert and Reyes called for civility.
"I also believe, as the governor has suggested, that it's time for people of goodwill on both sides of the issue to come together now and heal any rifts that occurred," Reyes said. "We are all Utahns. I hope we will exercise a great deal of kindness, caring and understanding."
Reyes said he believes the state put its best arguments forward, namely that marriage should be defined by states and that Utah has legitimate family reasons for banning gay marriage. He didn't feel comfortable saying what state laws may need to be tweaked in the future or how the legalization of same-sex marriages may affect other cases. But he indicated, that at first blush, fights over adoption or recognizing marriages previously performed are probably "moot."
"We have to look at those a little bit more carefully with our team before we make any commitments," he said, "but for right now it appears there is more clarity with regard to other issues."
Reyes' opponent in next month's election has been critical of the state's appeal from the start. He used Monday's events to remind voters of that fact and fired off a fundraising letter to potential donors as well.
"Only four justices' must vote to allow an appeal to proceed to the Supreme Court," Democrat Charles Stormont said in a news release. "The fact that not even four justices were willing to hear Utah's case, or any of the other six cases addressing the same issue, demonstrates the weakness of the state's case. After 10 months since the appeals began, now is the time for Sean Reyes to tell the people how much money he has wasted on these fruitless appeals."
The fight, which began last December when federal Judge Robert Shelby rejected Utah's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, has cost close to $600,000, according to the governor's office.
Herbert said the fight was worth it, saying as governor he must defend the laws on the books and he personally believed that states should have the right to define marriage.
That fight ended Monday morning, Herbert said.
"Now it is a matter of standing down so there is no more expense."
Some Utahns don't want Herbert to back off. American Leadership Fund, a far-right conservative group, issued a statement saying Herbert and Reyes lack "moral courage" for not continuing to fight the legalization of same-sex marriage. The group, led by former congressional candidate Cherilyn Eagar, said the state's leaders must call for a constitutional amendment that would limit marriage to relationships between one man and one woman.