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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Utah:

Part 2

Reactions to the District Court's ruling that at
least temporarily legalized same-sex marriage.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Reactions to the court ruling:

With the issuance of the decision in "Kitchen et al v. Herbert et al." by the U.S. District Court for Utah, same-sex marriages instantly became legal statewide. There was an immediate rush on county offices in Utah by same-sex couples wishing to purchase marriage licenses as quickly as possible. As with previous states that have legalized same-sex marriage, many same-sex couples were concerned that the State would certainly appeal the ruling to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and also obtain a temporary stay prohibiting marriage equality until at least the higher court issued its ruling. Speed was of the essence, because events in other states have shown that the access to SSM could be terminated within hours or days of Judge Shelby's ruling on DEC-20.

Seth Anderson and Michael Ferguson were the first same-sex couple to be married in Utah. Shortly afterwards, Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge were married. Both couples had their civil marriages solemnized at the Salt Lake County Clerk's office in Salt Lake City, UT. 4

Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City solemnized the marriages of about 35 couples that first day in what he described as a "powerful, emotional day." He said:

"There were couples arriving to try and get their papers in order from the clerk, but there were also just exponentially more people who were there as friends, family, supporters."

The Utah attorney general’s office subsequently filed to motions to stay the District Court ruling and a motion to appeal the ruling to the Court of Appeals. Ryan Bruckman, spokesperson for the Attorney General, said that the office was not happy with the verdict mainly because of its effect on Utah’s Constitution. He said:

"The duty of our office is to protect the constitution that voters of Utah have put in place." 2

The AG's office noted that:

"The federal district court’s ruling that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right has never been established in any previous case in the 10th Circuit [Court of Appeals]."

The 10th U.S. Court of Appeals handles appeals for six states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. 1 The only state that had legalized SSM prior to Utah was New Mexico, and it was handled by the state court system, not a federal court.

However, the Attorney General also has a duty to support the U.S. Constitution, and this duty sometimes requires state officials to reject clauses in the state constitution.

Bruckman said that members of the public had contacted the Attorney General's office. Some urged that the state appeal the ruling, and others want the ruling to stand without appeal.

The Sutherland Institute of Utah is a public policy research organization that:

"... supports limited government, private property rights and personal responsibility."

One might suspect that such a group who supports limited government intrusion in people's lives and personal civil rights would be strongly in favor of marriage equality. However, the group has launched a petition asking people to show their support for excluding same-sex couples from marriage. The petition reads:

"We need to show that Utahns still understand and support the critical importance of traditional marriage to the health and success of our society." 2

Governor Herbert (R) released a statement saying that he is:

"... very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah." [He said he would work with Acting Attorney General Brian L. Tarbet] to determine the best course to defend traditional marriage within the borders of Utah." 5

To "defend traditional marriage" is a common conservative expression to refer to promoting the continuing exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage.

Judge Shelby agreed that marriage has traditionally been left to states to regulate, as Utah has argued, but those laws must always comply with the U.S. Constitution. He said:

"The issue the court must address in this case is not who should define marriage, but the narrow question of whether Utah’s current definition of marriage is permissible under the [U.S.] Constitution.

It is only under exceptional circumstances that a court interferes with such action. But the legal issues presented in this lawsuit do not depend on whether Utah’s laws were the result of its Legislature or a referendum, or whether the laws passed by the widest or smallest of margins. ..."

In an apparent reference to the Supreme Court's decision in Loving v. Virginia which legalized interracial marriage in 1967, Judge Shelby said:

"Given the importance of marriage as a fundamental right and its relation to an individual’s rights to liberty, privacy, and association, the Supreme Court has not hesitated to invalidate state laws pertaining to marriage whenever such a law intrudes on an individual’s protected realm of liberty."

His ruling continued:

"However persuasive the ability to procreate might be in the context of a particular religious perspective, it is not a defining characteristic of conjugal relationships from a legal and constitutional point of view. The state’s position demeans the dignity not just of same-sex couples, but of the many opposite sex couples who are unable to reproduce or who choose not to have children."

[What same-sex couples seek is simply the same right] "currently enjoyed [in Utah only] by heterosexual individuals: the right to make a public commitment to form an exclusive relationship and create a family with a partner with whom the person shares an intimate and sustaining emotional bond. ..."

"If anything, the recognition of same-sex marriage expands religious freedom because some churches that have congregations in Utah desire to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies but are currently unable to do so." 1,6

The Los Angeles Times reports that:

" Utah officials argue that it's not the courts' role to determine how a state defines marriage and that the Supreme Court's ruling doesn't give same-sex couples the universal right to marry." 2

They seem to be referring to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in 2013-JUN in United States v. Windsor that declared Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. The state officials appear to be unaware that a major task for federal courts is to compare state laws and state constitutions with the U.S. Constitution and to declare any of the former two to be unconstitutional if a conflict is detected.

Peggy A. Tomsic is one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. She said that watching same-sex couples exchange vows was an experience she was:

"...“incapable of capturing in words. I was really happy that equality came to Utah but sad it had taken so long, I think Judge Shelby recognized these people had been deprived of their rights for so long [and] that needed to stop. I genuinely hope that his well-reasoned opinion helps plaintiffs in other states get the same type of ruling." 2

On DEC-20, Cody Craynor, spokesperson for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the main Mormon denomination -- issued a statement saying:

"The church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with respect. This ruling by a district court will work its way through the judicial process. We continue to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state constitution that marriage should be [only] between a man and a woman, and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court." 8

Views differ:

  • Religious and social conservatives typically look upon marriage as a "zero-sum game." That is, if one grants access to marriage by same-sex couples, it can only be done by taking rights away from opposite-sex couples and damaging the institution of marriage itself.

  • Religious and social liberals, on the other hand, view granting access to marriage by same-sex couples as strengthening marriage for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. They support both traditional (opposite-sex) marriage and same-sex marriage.

Mormons for Equality called the District Court ruling a "thrilling" confirmation of the right to civil marriage.

However, the ruling by the Judge Shelby extends beyond civil marriages to include religious marriages for any faith group who wishes to marry loving, committed same-sex couples in the state. This would include faith groups like the Unitarian Universalist church, United Church of Christ, Reform Judaism, etc.

The Human Rights Campaign called the ruling a recognition of "fundamental equality."

The National Organization on Marriage (NOM), whose sole activity is to prevent same-sex couples from being able to marry anywhere in the U.S., said the decision was a "travesty of justice" and an example of "vetoing the voters from the bench."

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Brooke Adams, "Federal judge strikes down Utah ban on same-sex marriage," The Salt Lake Tribune, 2013-DEC-20, at: http://www.sltrib.com/
  2. Saba Hamedy, "Utah gay marriage ruling brings mixed emotions," Los Angeles Times, 2013-DEC-21, at: http://www.latimes.com/
  3. Elisabeth A. Shumaker, "Appellate Case: 13-4178," United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, 2013-DEC-22, at: http://localtvkstu.files.wordpress.com/ This is a PDF file.
  4. "Judge strikes down Utah's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional," Fox News - Politics, 2013-DEC-2, at: http://www.foxnews.com/
  5. Brooke Adams, "Federal judge strikes down Utah ban on same-sex marriage," The Salt Lake Tribune, 2013-DEC-20, at: http://www.sltrib.com/
  6. Text of "Kitchen et al v. Herbert et al," Scribd, 2013-DEC-20, at: http://www.scribd.com/
  7. Marissa Lang and Brooke Adams, "Judge denies Utah AG’s request to halt same-sex marriages," The Salt Lake Tribune, 2013-DEC-22, at: http://www.sltrib.com/
  8. Mori Kessler, "Federal judge strikes down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban," St George, Utah, 2013-DEC-20 at: http://www.stgeorgeutah.com/

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Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-DEC-22
Latest update: 2013-DEC-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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