Saturday, December 21, 2013

Federal Court Strikes Down Utah's Ban On Same-Sex Marriage

Yesterday, a Utah federal district court declared Utah's state constitutional and statutory bans on same-sex marriage invalid under the due process and equal protection clauses of the federal constitution and enjoined the state from enforcing provisions of Utah law that prevent a person from marrying another person of the same sex. In Kitchen v. Herbert, (D UT, Dec. 20, 2013), the court said in part:
If, as is clear from the Supreme Court cases discussing the right to marry, a heterosexual person’s choices about intimate association and family life are protected from unreasonable government interference in the marital context, then a gay or lesbian person also enjoys these same protections. ... The Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence removed the only ground—moral disapproval—on which the State could have at one time relied to distinguish the rights of gay and lesbian individuals from the rights of heterosexual individuals.
Moving to plaintiffs' equal protection challenge, the court held that none of the reasons put forward to justify the ban-- responsible procreation, optimal child rearing, proceeding with caution, preserving the traditional definition of marriage-- survive even "rational basis" review.

Utah's Attorney General quickly moved to stay the court's order, filing a motion (full text) in district court as well as a motion (full text) in the 10th Circuit.  The court's decision and plans for appeal are discussed at Scotus Blog, Christian Science Monitor, and the Salt Lake Tribune. An op-ed in the St. George (UT) News contrasts the quick appeal of the ruling with the still-uncertain reaction of state officials to a federal court decision last week invalidating a large part of Utah's law banning polygamy.

In Ogden, Weber County officials had originally announced the the county Clerk's office would be open for one hour today to process marriage license applications, but reversed that decision, turning away over 200 people in line.  According to the Salt Lake Tribune, county Clerk Ricky Hatch apologized to those waiting, and later explained that the decision not to open was made in part because there was no security in place for the building and in part because he was "advised that opening the office for 'special circumstances' may violate equal-protection laws, as the county had never before opened on a Saturday to accommodate a particular group or event."