Utah’s Journey to Same-Sex Marriage Equality

Jane MarquardtAs the Utah Pride Festival rapidly approaches, citizens who fully value the American ideals of justice and fairness should take time to reflect on the litigious and confrontational challenges the LGBT community has overcome to achieve marriage equality, particularly in our state. It has certainly been a turbulent journey, but the unwavering commitment of activists has paved the way for couples to finally express their love for each other fully, regardless of the gender of their partner.

Advocates for equality have been passionately vocal, pointing out that states which ban or refuse to recognize same-sex marriages are in fact violating American citizens’ rights to equal protection under the law. Over ten years ago, Utah passed Amendment 3, a law that attempted to restrict and reserve marriage as a privilege between a man and woman. Passed as part of a referendum, the legislation was, for a brief time, part of the Utah State Constitution.

As a result, Salt Lake City law firm Magleby & Greenwood, led by the brilliant attorney Peggy Tomsic, filed a suit on behalf of three same-sex couples in March of 2013 naming Governor Gary Herbert, Attorney General John Swallow, and Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen as the defendants. When Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled in Kitchen v. Herbert that barring same-sex marriages violated the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 3 was struck down. Judge Shelby wrote:

Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law. The State’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason. Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.

The state appealed the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and issuances of licenses to gay couples were temporarily halted. However, Amendment 3 was declared unconstitutional again.The Utah Attorney General’s Office then attempted to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but they refused to hear an appeal. Absent their review, the 10th Circuit’s ruling is binding precedent for all states in its jurisdiction. This decision therefore effectively required Utah to resume recognizing same-sex marriage and provided the opportunity for multitudes of gay couples to tie the knot.

The decision to finally embrace equality has not been universally popular. A number of opponents continue to voice their displeasure and supplant the priority given to rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution with their personal or religious preferences as pertains to gay marriage. However, progress marches forward. Thanks in large part to the hard work of activists in our state, gay couples can happily continue to fully exercise their rights as Americans.

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