Cache County Attorney James Swink announced Monday that the Cache County Clerk’s Office will remain closed pending a decision by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on a request for an emergency stay on same-sex marriages by the state.
The closure was a disappointment for a handful of same-sex couples who arrived at the Cache County Administration Building to get married Monday morning after county officials stated Friday that they would issue marriage licenses to them.
The couples found a note on the door of the Clerk’s Office announcing the closure. Several police were also in the Cache County Administration Building to “keep the peace,” Swink said.
In an official statement, the Attorney’s Office declared that the Clerk’s Office is closed until further notice “to sort out the legal issues and confusion.”
The closure came shortly before U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby denied a stay from the state of Utah to stop same-sex marriages, ruling Utah attorneys waited too long to seek the motion. This action means that gay couples throughout the state can still legally get married.
As a result, the state will be requesting another emergency stay with the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. A decision could be made very soon.
“That (emergency stay) is the one issue that is being waited on, quite frankly,” Swink said. “We don’t know what the court will do, but it’s prudent to wait and see, and I know other counties are waiting on that as well. Depending on what happens, I think you’ll see the county open tomorrow morning. ... Sometimes these things take a minute for dust to settle.”
Along with Cache County, Box Elder, Utah, Juab, Sevier, Piute and San Juan counties also declined to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday.
Swink said Shelby’s initial 53-page ruling is still “being digested” — including the issue of closing the clerk’s office, which resulted in the denial of licenses to straight couples, which is a misdemeanor.
“There are a number of issues having to be sorted through right now, so I don’t see this as a long-term closure of the clerk’s office — I know she (Cache County Clerk Jill Zollinger) would like to open up as soon as she hears what’s going to happen with the emergency stay,” Swink said. “We just want to do things right.”
Zollinger, County Executive Lynn Lemon, and two members of the County Council all played a part in the decision of closing the office.
“We’ve not gotten any formal order, so are we supposed to respond to news reports (on the ruling)?” Lemon said. “In the legal system, there needs to be an order, and we have not seen anything. We’re making a decision that we don’t issue licenses to anybody until we sort it out.”
Now Cache County is in a difficult legal position where officials are denying gay couples — and straight — the ability to marry despite court orders to continue the process for gays. Swink said he is aware of this issue and the clerk “doesn’t want to treat people differently.”
The clerk’s office staff includes Zollinger, one full-time employee and two part-time employees who are on paid leave.
In response to the closure, some local couples opted to travel to other counties.
Reid Furniss and Cary Youmans, who both work at Utah State University, went to Weber County for a marriage license. They held a ceremony in Logan at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church with Rev. Scott Thalacker.
“I personally think it’s great — now I can fight like the rest of them do,” Furniss, 55, said when asked how he felt about eloping after three years of waiting.
Youmans was also positive about the moment after posing for pictures, hugging and laughing with friends who came to witness their union.
“The activist in me is excited despite the fact that the Cache County Clerk’s Office is deliberately closing to prevent us from getting married,” he said. “Don’t be pissing off the wrong queer, that’s all I can say!”
Thalacker told the paper this was the first time he had officiated over a same-sex marriage.
“As Christians, we do what we do because of what the Bible teaches,” he said. “The Bible does not have a clear rule on the perfect family ... It teaches the love of God and Jesus for all people.”
Youmans is optimistic that legally, his marriage is solid, given the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.
Furniss is LDS; Youmans is not — but they’re not going to fight about joining denominations.
Furniss believes the legalities going on with same-sex marriage is a positive development for a state that is the headquarters of the LDS Church.
“It’s saying, ‘Here I am; finally I can prove to you all that you need to get off your high horses, hypocrisy, and start living your religious beliefs,’” he said.
Beth Walden, of the Cache Valley Unitarian Universalists, was set to officiate this morning at the Cache County Administration Building and said she was sorry she did not have the chance.
“It’s really sad when there are people who don’t have the love in their hearts to allow others to make their commitment of life to one another,” Walden said. “Unitarian Universalists stand on the side of love. Patience will eventually win, and so will love.”
On Monday morning, Sherrie Mitchell and Michelle Gerencser decided to wait in the Cache County Office lobby until they heard news about the hearing. The Cache County couple met 11 years ago through mutual friends and have been engaged for 10 years.
“We agreed we wouldn’t get married until it was legal in our state,” Mitchell said. “We will hold out .... if not we’ll definitely go to another county. We want a 2013 marriage.”
She continued, “I felt like Cache Valley has been warm and inviting; they said they were ready, so I’m shocked.
Tabitha Tuck, 31, of Box Elder County, came to get married to her partner, Jessica Young, 33. They left the building shortly after the county made the decision to close the office.
“It’s almost like they’re teasing us with it. I just don’t think it’s right,” she said. “It’s not just about marrying a woman and a woman or a man and a man, it’s about being with who you fall in love with.”
*An update on this story can be found HERE