Friday, December 20, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage Now Legal In Utah After Federal Judge Strikes Down Marriage Ban

Well, well, well! While I was incommunicado watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug this afternoon apparently there was some amazing breaking news. Federal judge Robert Shelby issued a ruling which struck down Utah's voter-passed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and refused to issue a stay of his decision, which means that same-sex couples can now get married in the Beehive state. There is a keen sense of irony that this is occurring in Utah, which is the location of the Mormon Church, one of the most virulent opponents of marriage equality and LGBT rights throughout the country.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints issued a statement:
 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.
The Governor of Utah, Republican Gary Hebert said:
"I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah. 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 full text of the decision can be accessed here.

Ian Milhiser analyzed the ruling at Think Progress:
Beyond Judge Shelby’s conclusion that marriage is a question of constitutional rights, not one of states’ rights — as he explains, “the Fourteenth Amendment requires that individual rights take precedence over states’ rights where these two interests are in conflict” — Shelby’s opinion appears designed to tear down whatever intellectual infrastructure remains supporting marriage discrimination.
The leading argument advanced by supporters of discrimination in same-sex marriage cases is that marriage is necessarily tied to procreation, so same-sex couples can be excluded because they cannot produce biological offspring. Yet, as Shelby points out, the ability to procreate is not “a defining characteristic of conjugal relationships from a legal and constitutional point of view.” Such an argument does not simply “demean[] the dignity” of same-sex couples, it also degenerates “the many opposite-sex couples who are unable to reproduce or who choose not to have children.” Indeed, under Utah’s argument for maintaining marriage discrimination, “a post-menopausal woman or infertile man does not have a fundamental right to marry because she or he does not have the capacity to procreate.”
Additionally, opponents of marriage equality who cheered Justice Antonin Scalia’s sharply worded dissent in Lawrence v. Texas — another landmark gay rights opinion — may come to regret Scalia’s words after reading Judge Shelby’s opinion. Scalia wrote in Lawrence that “[t]oday’s opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned.” Shelby’s opinion proclaims that Scalia was right.
Oh the delicious irony. Will noted homophobe Justice Antonin Scalia disavow his dissent in Lawrence in order to deny a fundamental right to marry that he announced the Supreme Court would be powerless to prevent from being articulated if private sexual relations were removed from governmental regulation? It will be fascinating to see what happens when this decision goes to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court in the future.

But right now, astonishingly, Utah is the 18th state in the union to have enacted marriage equality, and the first very red state to do so. Presumably, same-sex couples will be able to get civil marriage licenses and get married in Utah (no waiting period!) until a stay is issued by a higher court, which could happen as early as Monday.

Hat/tip to Joe.My.God

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