Gay couples wed after federal judge overturns Utah's same-sex marriage ban
"We’re just thrilled Utah’s taking a positive step forward," Sbeity said. "I hope that everyone is happy for us as much as we are."
In her argument, their attorney Peggy Tomsic called Utah's Amendment 3 the "most draconian deprivation of rights in the United States." Tomsic cited landmark U.S. Supreme Court civil rights cases Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated schools in the South, and Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated laws banning interracial marriage.
Sbeity said he believes leaving the decision on gay marriage to individual states is not fair because it denies rights "to people who love each other based on gender and sex."
"And that’s all there is to it, in my opinion," he said.
Tomsic issued a statement Friday saying that while she and her clients anticipated that the state of Utah would appeal the decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, they are confident it will stand as law.
“We cannot capture in words the gratitude and joy plaintiffs feel that Judge Shelby had the courage to declare, as the United States Constitution requires, that same-sex couples, like all other U.S. citizens and Utah residents, are constitutionally entitled to marriage equality in Utah,” Tomsic said.
Cody Craynor, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said 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," Craynor said. "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."
At a hearing earlier this month, Shelby said he had his "hands full" with the case as his ruling is believed to not only have ramifications in Utah, but would be used in marriage law cases across the country.
Brett Tolman, a former U.S. attorney for Utah who along with attorney Paul Burke submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on the federal Defense of Marriage Act on behalf of Utah Pride Center, said Shelby’s ruling is “the correct result. It is a proper analysis of the Constitution.”
Tolman and Burke do not represent the three Utah couples who challenged Amendment 3.
“(The ruling) is very strongly worded. It’s definitive. It will make for an interesting decision for those who want to review it in terms of whether or not they appeal or not,” Tolman said, referring to the strong language on disparate treatment.
Numerous state bans on same-sex marriage have been tossed since the Supreme Court overturned DOMA, but the Utah decision may be particularly significant,” Tolman said.
“There are still legal battles to be made, but for Utah to be at the forefront in determining a ban to be unconstitutional is a very big statement when it comes to the rest of the country,” he said.
House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said he's "grieved" by the judge's decision because it goes against the voter-approved definition of marriage. Dee said he has served in positions as a mayor and LDS Church bishop where he had the authority to marry people and wondered if refusing to marry someone based on his deeply held religious beliefs would be considered discrimination.
Shelby's ruling came the day after the New Mexico Supreme Court determined that the state was constitutionally required to allow same-sex couples to marry and receive the same privileges afforded by civil marriage under law. That ruling made New Mexico the 17th state, including the District of Columbia, to allow gay marriage.
Civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Campaign, praised Shelby's ruling.
“We’re glad that the court has ruled against this discriminatory law,” said John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah. “This law only serves to deny loving and committed couples the protection and dignity that only comes with marriage. We congratulate the brave couples who brought this challenge and their legal team.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said Shelby "recognized the fundamental equality of gay and lesbian couples guaranteed by the United States Constitution."
"Today, same-sex couples in Utah have renewed hope that they will soon be free to marry, and there is no legal or moral reason for the state to stand in their way,” he said.
To Lynn Wardle, a professor at BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School who specializes in family law, Shelby’s ruling was “simply a travesty and a tragedy.”
Wardle predicts there will be “pushback” by backers of traditional marriage and people who voted for Amendment 3.
“People are going to feel that their noses have been rubbed in the dirt," he said. "A process that is supposed to mean something in a democracy has been trivialized and thrown under the bus. The public attention given people who celebrate same-sex marriage is not going to calm the waters.”
Contributing: Dennis Romboy
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