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What You Need to Know About Utah’s Gay Marriage Ban Being Struck Down

What You Need to Know About Utah’s Gay Marriage Ban Being Struck Down

Utah is on course to being the 18th state to recognize marriage equality after a federal judge struck down the state’s constitutional ban. Here’s what you need to know, and what’s next in this fight.

Utah state voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2004, known as Amendment 3. The ban stated: “Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman. No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.”

U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby on Friday struck down that constitutional amendment, finding that the ban violates same-sex couples’ due process and equal protection rights as enshrined under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The case was brought by three gay and lesbian couples. The state defended the ban as being necessary to providing a stable environment for children and for furthering the state’s interest in ensuring opposite sex couples marry.

In the ruling, Judge Shelby made some important statements debunking the state’s arguments, writing in the 53 page ruling:

Rather than protecting or supporting the families of opposite-sex couples, Amendment 3 perpetuates inequality by holding that the families and relationships of same-sex couples are not now, nor ever will be, worthy of recognition. Amendment 3 does not thereby elevate the status of opposite-sex marriage; it merely demeans the dignity of same-sex couples. And while the State cites an interest in protecting traditional marriage, it protects that interest by denying one of the most traditional aspects of marriage to thousands of its citizens: the right to form a family that is strengthened by a partnership based on love, intimacy, and shared responsibilities. The Plaintiffs’ desire to publicly declare their vows of commitment and support to each other is a testament to the strength of marriage in society, not a sign that, by opening its doors to all individuals, it is in danger of collapse.

The judge added that there was no material difference between banning same-sex couples from marrying and banning interracial marriage. Of particular importance though is one paragraph in the judge’s conclusion in which he seems to explicitly state that the US Constitution does provide a right to marriage equality, saying:

Moreover, the Constitution protects the Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights, which include the right to marry and the right to have that marriage recognized by their government. These rights would be meaningless if the Constitution did not also prevent the government from interfering with the intensely personal choices an individual makes when that person decides to make a solemn commitment to another human being. The Constitution therefore protects the choice of one’s partner for all citizens, regardless of their sexual identity.

This is one of only a handful of rulings on the marriage equality issue that have specifically addressed a right to same-sex marriage under the U.S. Constitution, and for that reason it is important for the marriage equality fight — especially in terms of what it could mean for the future.

What’s Next for Marriage Equality in Utah?

At the time of writing, marriage equality is legal in Utah and several same-sex couples have already taken advantage of this and married. However, it is widely expected that Utah’s administration will appeal this ruling. A first step toward that will be the state requesting a stay to prevent more marriages taking place. That will likely be requested in the next few days.

An appeal will need to go before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the Court will be tasked with looking at the details of the case. There is cause to think this ruling could go even reach the Supreme Court of the United States, once again putting the question of marriage equality before the highest court in the land. What’s more, this ruling with its explicit language surrounding the right to marriage equality, could finally see the Supreme Court recognize same-sex marriage as an undeniable right.

Yet for now we can celebrate Utah joining 17 other states, now including New Mexico, and Washington D.C. in recognizing marriage equality and the equal rights of its gay and lesbian citizens. What a Christmas gift!

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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1:16PM PST on Dec 29, 2013


12:38PM PST on Dec 28, 2013

john h. Here in America one segment of the population does get to vote on the rights of another segment of the population.. That is why we have a Constitution after all.

7:36AM PST on Dec 24, 2013

Hi, john h. Your point about the judge being Presidentially appointed is...what? Side note: I was no fan of President Bush (George W.) when he was in office. But, the man was twice-elected to the Office. I gave the respect Mr. Bush due him. Well, you know.

7:16AM PST on Dec 24, 2013

I'm all for gay marriage but it was an Obama appointed judge who struck the ban down. Let the voters of each state decide whether they want gay marriage not 1 Obama judge.

6:20AM PST on Dec 24, 2013

Hope Utah keeps allowing gay marriage and that all states will soon allow it.

5:18AM PST on Dec 24, 2013

Marilyn L., I doubt Utah will present this to the US Supreme Court, as the latter already struck down DOMA as unconstitutional. Although, SCOTUS left it for individual states to rule on the issue.

8:21PM PST on Dec 23, 2013

History was made when Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to sanction gay marriage. In "Same Sex America," filmmaker Henry Corra weaves the stories of seven gay and lesbian couples on their emotional journey to the altar with the dramatic showdown at Massachusetts' constitutional convention, a vivid demonstration of democracy in action that may change the course of history. The film captures all the nuance of what may be the defining chapter in the history of the gay and lesbian struggle for equal rights.

3:04PM PST on Dec 23, 2013

Thanks for sharing, there is still a ways to go.

9:55AM PST on Dec 23, 2013

@Marilyn L. I'm surprised that the Supreme Court ruling this summer overturning DOMA didn't just overturn all the un-equal state laws automatically.

9:51AM PST on Dec 23, 2013

The Mormon's will keep at it and will probably take it to the SCOTUS, look how hard and ruthless they fought in CA...but they will lose. FINALLY!

Something occur to me in Judge Shelby's ruling where he wrote "These rights would be meaningless if the Constitution did not also prevent the government from interfering with the intensely personal choices an individual makes..." And why can't this continue to read in a bill...regarding their medical, surgical and healthcare private choices protected by HIPPA. Perhaps the ProChoice politicians and activists need to take a hard look at this ruling; if they would we might be able to put the abortion issue to rest once and for all.

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