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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court issued a stay of several district court judges' orders to the Utah Department of Health requiring the issuance of birth certificates in same-sex parent adoptions.
The stay came Friday in response to the Utah Attorney General's Office filing a petition intended to give the health department and adopting parties certainty and clarity about whether the department may legally issue amended birth certificates in same-sex adoptions if directed by court order.
Two 3rd District Court judges — Elizabeth Hruby-Mills and Andrew Stone — approved adoptions among same-sex couples who were married in Utah during the brief time it was legal after Judge Robert Shelby's ruling to overturn Utah's Amendment 3.
In each couple, one partner has legal custody of the child, and the adoption seeks to extend parental rights to both partners. The health department was also ordered to provide updated birth certificates.
The health department later sought clarification because such action would apparently conflict with Utah's current law, which prohibits the state or state entities from recognizing same-sex marriages.
On Friday, Attorney General Sean Reyes and two health department officials were summoned to a hearing to explain why the department seemed not to comply with the district court's order.
The noncompliance was an act of defiance of a valid court order as seen by some, including Cliff Rosky, a University of Utah law professor and Equality Utah board member.
Today's stay indicates that the Utah Supreme Court recognizes the importance of resolving any legal confusion regarding these matters, and the attorney general's office is encouraged that it will be able to present the department's full arguments to the court so that these issues may be resolved to give people who seek adoption and the department clarity on the issues.
–Utah Attorney General's Office
"It's obviously disappointing for the families. The lawyers call it a stay of an adoption, but that's not how it feels," Rosky said. "They got married in Utah. No one questions that their marriage was legal."
But Utah Solicitor General Bridget Romano said Thursday that the attorney general was only seeking clarification as to whether the adoption decree can abide given the state's law on same-sex marriage. It was not an attempt to undo any adoptions that have taken place among same-sex couples.
The stay also appears to apply to the pending "order to show cause" issued to Reyes and the department by Judge Stone.
The stay is expected to remain in effect until the issue has been fully briefed by the parties and resolved by the court, according to the attorney general's office.
"A stay is like pressing pause. It doesn't say what's going to happen," Rosky said. "It just says, 'Let's have a full argument before the court before we make a big decision.'"
"Today's stay indicates that the Utah Supreme Court recognizes the importance of resolving any legal confusion regarding these matters, and the attorney general's office is encouraged that it will be able to present the department's full arguments to the court so that these issues may be resolved to give people who seek adoption and the department clarity on the issues," the Utah Attorney General's Office said in a statement Friday night.