Utah holdouts now issuing marriage licenses to gay couples

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The last of the Utah counties that were holding out on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples reversed course Thursday and decided to hand out licenses to all eligible applicants.

Officials for the four holdouts - Box Elder, Utah, Piute and San Juan counties - told The Associated Press they made the decision to offer licenses to same-sex couples.

County clerks say they had little choice after an appeals court on Tuesday declined to intervene and halt gay marriage. U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled last week that Utah's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, sending gay couples rushing to clerk offices for licenses.

The state plans to take its fight against gay marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court while it prepares an appeal of Shelby's ruling to the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Ryan Bruckman, a spokesman for the Utah attorney general's office.

The request for an emergency stay from the Supreme Court would go to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, because she has jurisdiction of the appeals court in that region. She could answer the request herself or turn to the full court – legal experts think the second scenario more likely because of the high-profile nature of the case.

Bruckman has said counties could be held in contempt of federal court if they refused to comply.

The holdouts said they decided to obey Shelby's ruling despite reservations and questions about their legal liability. Utah makes it a misdemeanor for county clerks to sanction a same-sex marriage.

San Juan County Clerk Norman Johnson said "what finalized it for me" was Gov. Gary Herbert's order to state agencies to comply with Shelby's decision and change procedures for the delivery of state services. To that end, the Utah Department of Workforce Services is recognizing gay couples for food stamp and welfare benefits.

For Johnson, Herbert's directive was the "final straw," together with a refusal Tuesday by the Denver-based appeals court to stay Shelby's decision pending an appeal from state lawyers.

Johnson said he felt like he was being dragged into granting marriage licenses against the wishes of voters who have kept him in office for 14 years.

"We have no choice," Johnson said Thursday. "The scales have tipped. It's not the way I want to see things go. But the law's the law, and I accept it. It's time."