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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Utah:

Part 10: Are there precedents to indicate if
Utah SSMs are valid? Federal Government
recognizes SSMs in Utah. Public opinion poll.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Are there precedence's that indicate whether the recent same-sex marriages in Utah are valid?

Attorney General's office in the State of Utah quickly determined that the recent developments in Utah were unique and that there is no precedence in U.S. history to guide the the state into determining whether the approximately 1,300 marriages solemnized by same-sex couples between the 2013-DEC-20 (when the District Court legalized SSMs) and 2014-JAN-06 (when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the court decision) are valid. They decided that the state will not recognize the marriages and that the same-sex couples will not receive the few hundred state benefits and protections enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples and their children.

Brooke Adams et al. of the Salt Lake Tribune agreed with Attorney General Reyes that there is no "clear legal precedence" identical to the situation in Utah. However, she described two very similar cases in the past. In both cases, the state did recognize same-sex marriages:

  • During 2004, Victoria Dunlap, the county clerk in Sandoval County, New Mexico noted that there was neither a state law nor a clause in the state Constitution that banned SSMs. So she started to issue marriage licenses upon request to same-sex couples. More than 60 couples were married as a result of her action. Debate over whether these marriages were valid lasted for almost a decade until 2013-AUG-28 when New Mexico Attorney General Gary King sent a letter to the county informing the current clerk that only courts, not clerks, have the authority to declare those 2004 marriages invalid. King wrote:

    "Unless and until a court of competent jurisdiction acts, a marriage license issued by a county clerk in New Mexico is presumptively valid."

  • During 2008-MAY, the California Supreme Court ruled that SSMs were legal in the state. Following that decision about 18,000 same-sex couples married. On election day in early 2008-NOV, the voters narrowly passed Proposition 8. an amendment to the state Constitution which banned SSMs across the state. However, the couples who married between 2008-MAY and NOV were still regarded as married, even though no new marriages could be made after 2008-NOV until 2013-JUN-26 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Prop. 8 on procedural grounds. 1

The federal Justice Department decided that the same-sex marriages in Utah that were solemnized between the date of the District Court ruling, and the date of the U.S. Supreme Court's stay are valid. U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had the following video added to his department's web site:

 2

Attorney General Holder discussed the approximately 1,300 same-sex marriages in Utah, saying:

"I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages [in other states]. These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds."2

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage -- a group that works tirelessly to ban same-sex marriages -- said:

"It is outrageous that the Justice Department would move so brazenly and publicly to undermine Utah's standing constitutional provision regulating marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It is the right of states to determine marriage, and the voters and legislature of Utah have done just that. Their right to do so is encoded in the U.S. Constitution, and was explicitly upheld by the Supreme Court this summer in the Windsor decision. But with this move, the Department of Justice under this Administration signals that it simply has no regard for the [state] Constitution and the rule of law."

"The Justice Department's edict today expressly contradicts the determination of Utah's Governor and Attorney General, and represents one of the most significant overreaches of federal authority imaginable. Furthermore, Attorney General Eric Holder is now doing the very thing that the Supreme Court in Windsor v. United States held the federal government could not do -- use a definition of marriage for federal law purposes that did not respect the policy choices made by the individual states. This determination should be reversed if the State of Utah's sovereignty -- or really any state's -- is to be upheld and respected." 3

Implicit in Brian Brown's statement is the belief that a state Constitution need not conform to the requirements of the U.S. Constitution. His view is that Utah and any other state can define eligibility for marriage in any way that they want to.

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2014-JAN-14: Public opinion poll shows massive increase of support for SSM since 2004:

In 2004, the voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 3 by a vote of 66% in favor vs 34% opposed, This altered the state Constitution to restrict marriage to one woman and one man. By the start of 2014, support for SSM among Utah adults has increased by 14 percentage points as opposition has shrunk by 18 percentage points. 4 These data closely match national SSM data in which support for SSM is increasing between 10 and 20 percentage points per decade, and opposition is decreasing by the same amount.

A telephone poll of 600 randomly selected Utah adults was conducted by SurveyUSA for the Salt Lake Tribune. They found:

  • 48% of the sample answered "Yes" to the question: "Should same-sex couples in Utah be allowed to get state-issued marriage licenses."
  • 48% answered "No"
  • 4% were not sure or didn't answer.
  • Among Mormons, support was 32% in favor, 64% opposed to SSM.
  • Among non-Mormons, support was 76% in favor, 21% opposed to SSM.

  • Unlike every other state poll that we have seen, there was relatively little variation with age:
    • Those aged 18 to 49 were 50% in favor of SSM, 47% opposed.
    • Those aged 50 and older were 45% in favor and 51% opposed.

The survey's margin of error is ±4.1 percentage points.

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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, Lindsay Whitehurst, & Erin Alberty, "Will Utah's same-sex marriages stand? Precedent in California, New Mexico offers clues," The Salt Lake Tribune, 2014-JAN-07, at: http://www.sltrib.com/
  2. Charlie Savage & Jack Healy, "U.S. to Recognize 1,300 Marriages Disputed by Utah, The New York Times, 2014-JAN-10, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  3. "National Organization for Marriage Condemns Obama Administration for Abandoning the Rule of Law and Fundamental Constitutional Principles," National Organization for Marriage, 2014-JAN-10, at: http://www.nomblog.com/
  4. Brooke Adams, "Poll: Utahns evenly split on same-sex marriage," The Salt Lake Tribune, 2014-JAN-14, at: http://www.sltrib.com/

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Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > 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-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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