Photo by Melissa Henrie
Many were shocked on December 20th when a U.S. District judge ruled that a Utah amendment banning gay marriage was unconstitutional. Governor Gary Herbert deemed the effects of the ruling a “chaotic situation” which left county officials scrambling to decide if they will issue or deny same-sex marriage licenses. Several days later, the same judge denied a request to stay his decision, although GOP lawmakers may soon be spending close to $2 million to defend the amendment and reverse the decision.
The decision was made regarding a lawsuit filed on March 25, 2013 by three same-sex couples in the U.S District Court. The plaintiffs claimed that a voter-approved amendment to Utah’s constitution passed in 2004 was unconstitutional. The amendment defined marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman, but District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that it violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
“Martin Luther King wrote: ‘A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote [or in this case marry], had no part in enacting or devising the law’. I believe that similar principles apply whenever laws are established which promote inequality. I am in favor of gay marriage because I believe all people should have equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities—even those who act or believe differently than I might,” peace and justice committee member Dr. Laura Hamblin said.
Some view the ruling as a step forward for equality, but others believe that knocking down a voter-approved amendment violates the rights of the people. According to a poll by the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, 54 percent of Mormons favor civil unions for same-sex couples, and opposition to any legal recognition has dropped from 69 percent in 2004 to 38 percent today.
The LDS Church, which has a significant role in the community as its members make up more than 58 percent of the state population, had church officials release a statement shortly after the ruling.
“The Church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with respect,” the statement said. “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.”
Utah GOP lawmakers may even be willing to spend $2 million to bring in outside counsel to defend the amendment in the Supreme Court. In 2004, 66% of Utahns voted for the amendment, a majority that convinced lawmakers that defending the amendment is fundamental to supporting the public opinion.
Since the ruling, more than 900 couples have received marriage licenses and for the first time in state history, same-sex couples have been allowed to marry. Ultimately, it will be up to the high court to decide how the ruling will stand in Utah. Until that decision is made, all counties in Utah are currently complying with the ruling and are issuing same-sex marriage licenses.