Gay marriage: What's next for Utah?

Published: Wednesday, July 3 2013 5:30 p.m. MDT

Derek Kitchen and his partner, Moudi Sbiety, pose for a portrait in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 28, 2013. The gay couple is challenging the Utah state law that says marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake residents Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbiety want to get married, but not in California or Iowa or one of the other 10 states that allow gay marriage.

"We don't plan to get married in any other state but Utah," Sbiety said. "We don't want to live in any other state. Our friends are here. Our families are here. Utah is home and we can't see ourselves living anywhere else."

Sbiety, 25, and Kitchen, 24, own a successful business making Lebanese hummus sold in stores and at farmers markets across the valley. Together for four years, the couple want to buy a house.

"We just want to settle down and grow and build our own lives," Sbiety said. "That is very hard to do in Utah — legally, not socially."

Two momentous U.S. Supreme Court decisions last week on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 bring the gay marriage issue to the forefront in states that only recognize marriage as the legal union of a man and a woman.

In Utah, it will play out in federal court where Sbiety and Kitchen are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging a Utah voter-approved constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. But state lawmakers might have some decisions ahead of them, while advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage promise to make their voices heard.

While the courts seem to hold the trump card, University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said there's no "slam dunk path" to changing a state's same-sex marriage ban.

"I think it's very unclear as to what those outcomes are going to be at this point," he said. "I just don't see that there's a direct path that says, 'Oh, yes, the next decision is going to be that same-sex marriages are constitutionally protected and they have to apply in all states.'"

Burbank said he anticipates a range of lower court decisions — some upholding state bans, others challenging them — and that the issue will end up at the U.S. Supreme Court again in a few years.

Poll results

In a poll released Friday of local political insiders, the online newsletter Utah Policy asked whether Utah would ever reverse the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Only 13 percent of Republicans see a reversal in the next decade or longer, compared to 39 percent of Democrats, most of whom see it taking less than 10 years. Both Republican and Democratic insiders largely agree it would take a lawsuit, though 35 percent of Republicans and 8 percent of Democrats say Utah will never change the law.

The Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said the judicial system or government really can't adjudicate or legislate what marriage is.

"Marriage is something, in our belief system, that is divinely given to us by God. It's found in sacred scripture. It's found in natural law," he said, days after the Supreme Court issued its decisions.

Bishop Wester said he doesn't know what recourse there is to preserve traditional marriage other than to continue to engage public conversation and debate to "make our case."

"I think it's going to be a very difficult road ahead for those who would see marriage as between one man and one woman," he said, noting momentum is with those who favor same-sex marriage.

"If states continue to go the way they've been going, Utah would be one of the last — if not the last state — that would go that way. I think if it were up to the electorate in Utah, it would not go that way," Bishop Wester said.

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