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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Utah:

Part 9: Reactions to the Supreme Court stay
by social & religious conservatives. The Federal
government recognizes SSMs in Utah. Are there
limits on how a state can define marriage?

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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2014-JAN-06/07: Reactions from social and religious conservatives:

Brian Brown is president of the National Organization for Marriage, whose sole purpose is to preserve marriage inequality across the U.S. by prohibiting same-sex marriage (SSM) everywhere. He said:

It was outrageous that this brazen judge appointed by President Obama would substitute this view for the sovereign decision by both the Utah Legislature and the people of the state, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman." 1

The LA Times noted that Brown has overlooked the fact that Judge Shelby had been recommended for the bench by Utah's two Republican senators, Orrin G. Hatch and Mike Lee.

In reality, there is no way to know what Judge Shelby's personal opinion is about same-sex marriage. He might actually oppose marriage equality for Utah. The only understanding one can get from his ruling in 2013-DEC-20 is that he finds marriage inequality to be a violation of the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Since the United States is a constitutional democracy, whenever a conflict occurs between a clause in a state Constitution and a clause in the U.S. Constitution, it is the duty of the courts to rule the former unconstitutional. Identifying such conflicts and declaring laws and constitutional amendments to be unconstitutional is major role for the federal court system, from the District Courts to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brown also did not mention that the "overwhelming" vote by the people on Amendment 3 to the Utah constitution that banned SSM occurred in 2004 when support for SSM was much lower than it is today, and opposition was much higher. Also, the amendment bans same-sex marriages, and civil unions, and domestic partnerships. This is a position currently shared by only about 29% of present-day Utah voters.

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council said:

"The [U.S.] Supreme Court has today signaled that it will not allow state laws defining marriage to be set aside by a lone judge without a careful consideration of the issues involved. The issuance of a stay is consistent with the Court's ruling last year in Windsor v. United States, in which they affirmed that states have the 'historic and essential authority to define the marital relation' and condemned federal efforts 'to influence or interfere with state sovereign choices about who may be married.'

FRC plans to support Utah in its appeal of this case to the Tenth Circuit [Court of Appeals] with a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the definition of marriage adopted by the people of Utah." 2

Bruce Hausknecht, a legal analyst for a very influential fundamentalist group Focus on the Family called the high court’s order "momentous" and a "breath of fresh air." He said:

"The Supreme Court did what the lower court should have done. Courts always suspend the enforcement of decisions that drastically alter the status quo pending an appeal by the losing side. But after last summer’s disappointing marriage decisions by the Supreme Court, there was this uneasy feeling that you couldn’t get five votes for anything reasonable where marriage is concerned."

No further marriages can be performed now. The current legality of the [approximately 1,300] marriages already performed is in question. But there is no question that if the appeals court overturns the lower court’s decision, those same-sex marriages will be as if they never happened." 3

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2014-JAN-10: The federal government announced that they will recognize existing same-sex marriages in Utah as valid:

According to KUTV-TV in Salt Lake City, UT, the federal government will recognize the approximately 1,300 legal same-sex marriages solemnized in Utah after the District Court's decision and before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its stay. These couples will be eligible for federal marriage-related grants and protections, will be able to issue joint income tax returns, etc. Attorney General Eric Holder said that families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their benefits while the courts decide the issue of same-sex marriage in Utah.

However, these families will not receive the few hundred state benefits given to opposite-sex married couples because the State of Utah refuses to recognize their marriages as valid. 4

2014-JAN-10: A video by KUTV-TV, Salt Lake City, UT: "Feds recognize same-sex marriage in Utah." Unfortunately, the video plays automatically when you come to this page.


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Are there limits on how a state can define marriage?

There is a nearly universal belief that it is up to the individual states to determine whom may marry. The Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly and unambiguously guarantees this. The U.S. Supreme supported this interpretation on 2013-JUN-26 when it issued its ruling in the case Wilson v. United States.

The sticking point between the Utah government and the court is whether:

  • The individual states have complete freedom to define eligibility for marriage in any way that matches their local culture, or

  • whether a state's marriage laws and marriage clauses in the state Constitution must meet the requirements of the U.S. Constitution.

The State of Utah and the federal District Court in Utah appear to differ:

  • The state of Utah appears to believe that states have the right to define marriage eligibility in any way that its voters wish. Since the voters approved Amendment 3 to the state constitution in 2004 that bans same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships, then SSMs are not allowed in Utah. In the view of the state, the approximately 1,300 same-sex marriages solemnized between 2013-DEC-20 and 2014-JAN-06 are not valid. The state has determined that these couples, and their children, will not receive any of the few hundred state benefits and protections of marriage routinely given to opposite-sex married couples. They will continue to be considered "legal strangers" to each other. Their relationship will be ignored, They and their children will be without elementary benefits and protections.

  • Federal District Court Judge Robert Shelby determined that the Amendment 3 to the state constitution, which was passed by the voters in 2004 violates both the equal access and the equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Thus the amendment is unconstitutional and SSMs which were solemnized before the stay are legal in the state. They remain valid today.

Both sides in the conflict are absolutely confident that their interpretation is correct and that the other side is in error. The decision by the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will probably arrive sometime in 2014, should offer some clarification.

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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. Brian Brown, "National Organization for Marriage Commends US Supreme Court for Staying Utah Federal Judge's Ruling Redefining Marriage," National Organization for MArriage, 2014-JAN-06, at:
  2. "FRC Applauds Supreme Court Decision to Stay Utah Marriage Ruling," Family Research Council, 2013-JAN-06, at:
  3. Bethany Monk, "U.S. Supreme Court Halts Same-Sex Marriage in Utah — for Now," CitizenLink, 2013-JAN-06, at:
  4. "Holder Recognizes Same-Sex Marriages in Utah," Newsmax, 2014-JAN-10, at:
  5. "Feds recognize same-sex marriage in Utah," KUTV-TV, 2014-JAN-10, at:

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Site navigation:

Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > SSM > SSM sub menu > Utah > here

Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > SSM > SSM sub menu > Utah > here

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2014-JAN-06
Latest update: 2014-JAN-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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