Utahns react with questions: What happens next?

Published: Wednesday, June 26 2013 11:10 a.m. MDT

Colleen Mewing, left, her fianc, Jolene Abbott, and friend Erik Gonzales react at Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, to Supreme Court decisions Wednesday, June 26, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Gay rights activists in Utah hailed the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on marriage, while supporters of traditional marriage called the outcome disappointing.

But how the high court's decisions Wednesday on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 will affect Utah remains to be seen, particularly when it comes to extending federal benefits for same-sex couples who marry in other states but live in Utah.

Attorney General John Swallow said he would "vigorously" defend Utah's voter-approved law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, though he doesn't believe Wednesday's decision will have much direct impact on the state.

“In a nutshell, DOMA will not affect us,” he said, adding Utah still has the right to define marriage as it sees fit.

Former U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said the attorney general is accurate in saying the Supreme Court is not forcing Utah to authorize gay marriage, "but he should not be comfortable."

Utah Pride executive director Valerie Larabee said the decision would begin to "wash away" laws that she says discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

"We look forward to the day when all the anti-gay legislation lies on the trash heap of history like Prop 8 and DOMA," she said.

The justices struck down the section of DOMA that defines marriage as between a man and a woman for purposes of federal law as unconstitutional. That means legally married same-sex couples are entitled to claim the same federal benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples.

The court also ruled that the traditional marriage activists who put Proposition 8 on California ballots in 2008 did not have the constitutional authority, or standing, to defend the law in federal courts after the state refused to appeal its loss at trial. The decision leaves in place a lower federal court decision that overturned Proposition 8 and effectively legalizes gay marriage in California.

Michael Picardi, 62, and Grady James, 64, announced after a news conference at the Utah Pride Center that they intend to get married.

"We are going to California to do it so we can have all the federal rights that we deserve to have as a married couple," James said.

James and Picardi, who have been together seven years, said they're bugged that they have to file federal income tax returns as single people when they have a house, a car and checking and business accounts together.

"This is a dramatic day. This is Brown v. the Board of Education," said Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, the Utah Legislature's only openly gay member, making the comparison to landmark school desegregation legislation.

But Dabakis said it will be "awkward" for gay couples who marry in other states because they may or may not receive federal benefits in Utah.

"This patchwork system is going to be a mess the next few years until it gets straightened out. And really, there's only one way to straighten it out, which is to not have a patchwork, to allow marriage for LGBT families all across the country," he said.

Traditional marriage

Utah lawmakers have stood firm for traditional marriage, and Utah Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka expects that won't change.

"In Utah we have traditional marriage, and it's going to stay that way," she said.

Ruzicka said the Supreme Court rulings basically make marriage a states' rights issue.

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