Utah Becomes 18th State To Legalize Same-Sex Marriage, But Not Without A Fight
Photo of the Salt Lake County Clerks office as same-sex couples receive licenses via Equality Utah
Last Friday, a Federal Court ruled Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage violates gay and lesbian couples’ rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. This opened the door for Utah to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But Utah is one of the most conservative states in the country, and there have been fights on both sides.
Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert has been outspoken against the Federal ruling since Friday. “I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah,” Herbert said in a statement on his website. “I am working with my legal counsel and the acting Attorney General to determine the best course to defend traditional marriage within the borders of Utah.”
The actual decision to strike down the state’s ban was explained in a 53-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby.
“Few questions are as politically charged in the current climate,” said Shelby in the ruling’s opening statements. “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.”
The actual reasons for striking down the 2004 voter approved ban on same-sex marriage, cite many arguments other federal judges have used -
The right to due process:
While Utah exercises the “unquestioned authority” to regulate and define marriage, Windsor, 133 S. Ct. at 2693, it must nevertheless do so in a way that does not infringe the constitutional rights of its citizens. See id. at 2692 (noting that the
“incidents, benefits, and obligations of marriage” may vary from state to state but are still “subject to constitutional guarantees”). As a result, the court’s role is not to define marriage, an exercise that would be improper given the states’ primary authority in this realm. Instead, the court’s analysis is restricted to a determination of what individual rights are protected by the 16 Constitution. The court must then decide whether the State’s definition and regulation of marriage impermissibly infringes those rights.
And equal protection under the 14th Amendment:
The law differentiates on the basis of sex and closely resembles the type of law containing discrimination of an unusual character that the Supreme Court struck down in Romer and Windsor. But even without applying heightened scrutiny to Amendment 3, the court finds that the law discriminates on the basis of sexual identity without a rational reason to do so. Because Amendment 3 fails even rational basis review, the court finds that Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage violates the Plaintiffs’ right to equal protection under the law.
Despite the future of the ruling, same-sex couples around the state have begun seeking and receiving marriage licenses. Salt Lake City’s mayor began issuing licenses shortly after the ban was struck down Friday afternoon. “Dozens” of couples were lined up to receive the licenses.
But support for striking the ban has been met with many challenges – the conservative Sutherland Institute has asked their followers to sign a petition support Gov. Herbert in his fight to stay Shelby’s ruling.
“We don’t hate anyone. We just understand marriage differently and we think that’s a valid viewpoint in the public square,” Sutherland spokesman Bill Duncan told the Associated Press.
The number of confirmed signatures on the Sutherland Institute’s petition has not been released.
The Mormon Church, based in Salt Lake City, released a statement following the Shelby ruling:
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 between a man and a woman and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court.
But the church and the Sutherland Institute are not the only groups debating the future of same-sex marriage in Utah. A Moveon.org petition asking Gov. Herbert to not fight the Federal decision has collected over 35,000 signatures.
“Please help us show the Governor and the Sutherland Institute that they are simply out of touch with reality and that the majority of Utahans think we should embrace the 21st century and allow equal rights to everyone,” said Tim Wagern, the Moveon.org petition’s author.
Utah’s leadership, including Governor Herbert and the state’s attorney general, asked for a stay on the ruling shortly after the it was announced. The stay was denied this morning, leaving the same-sex couples in the state to freely marry.
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