Attorney General Sean Reyes takes oath, poised to appeal gay marriage ruling
Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Just moments after being sworn in Monday, Attorney General Sean Reyes told reporters the state is ready to file a request with the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay in the federal court ruling striking down Amendment 3.
But Reyes, who in a speech at the ceremony in the Capitol rotunda had promised his administration would be transparent, declined to name the outside counsel he said the office retained to help with the filing.
"You'll see on the briefing when it's filed today or tomorrow," Reyes said. "Transparency is important. This is part of who we are and what we'll do. If it was next week, I would let you know who it is. But you'll find out."
Brian Tarbet, the former acting attorney general named by Reyes to be his chief deputy, said the office hired Monte Stewart, a Boise-based attorney. Stewart founded the Marriage Law Foundation that defends traditional marriage.
Stewart has been paid to help with the state's defense of the voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman for several months, Tarbet said.
Stewart's name will be on the state's Supreme Court filing, Tarbet said, but likely not the other attorneys the state is in the process of hiring to help with a full appeal of the Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby. That ruling struck down Utah's voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
The ruling has resulted in gay marriages being allowed in Utah. Both Shelby and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals have turned down the state's requests to stay the decision while it is being appealed.
It apparently has been difficult for the state to find lawyers willing to take on the appeal to the 10th Circuit, and potentially the Supreme Court. Tarbet said at this point, it's the state's procurement process that has slowed the hire.
Reyes has already met with state leaders to make the case for the anticipated $2 million cost of fighting the case all the way to the nation's top court. House GOP majority leadership gave Reyes the go-ahead last Friday to spend the money.
Monday, he justified the expenditure to reporters by describing dealing with the Supreme Court as "a very unique and specialized expertise" and said when his office doesn't have that expertise, it'll pay to get it.
"Our commitment to the people is if we don't have it internally, then we'll find the best to represent the state," he said. "We're willing to spend whatever it takes to protect the laws and the will of the people."
Reyes said he does not yet "know the exact price tag, but that's part of the process of evaluating and engaging outside counsel." He said he anticipates support from lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herbert for the expense.
Everyone benefits from appealing the case, Reyes said.
"All of the citizens of the state should want a final say," he said. "Hopefully getting a final word from the Supreme Court on this issue will give us all some closure."
The governor, who met with Reyes after the ceremony, told reporters he wanted to "make sure the money is being well spent" and said there needs to be a cost-benefit analysis of using outside counsel.
"Bringing people in is not a problem," Herbert said. "The state would want to have the best argument out there in defense of Amendment 3. The opposition will have their best foot forward, too."
Lee Rech, a spokeswoman for Reyes, said after the attorney general's meeting with the governor that Herbert "is supportive of the legal strategy and the hiring of outside counsel.”
Also expected to be appealed by the attorney general's office is another federal court ruling overturning Utah's ban on polygamy. Reyes said he is waiting for the final order to be issued before commenting.
He said it is not his intention to hire outside counsel in that case.
Reyes takes the place of former Attorney General John Swallow, who announced he was resigning in November amid investigations into allegations that include influence peddling.
Pledging a fresh start for the office, Reyes said he feels challenged rather than overwhelmed. He believes serving effectively will help him win election next November to the remainder of Swallow's term.
Lawmakers are already looking at legislation dealing with the marriage issue.
Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Orem, has a proposed constitutional amendment drafted that he plans to introduce in the 2014 Legislature that begins meeting late next month.
Anderegg said his amendment would prevent clergy from having to marry gay couples if that goes against their religious teachings. He said he came up with the proposal more than a year ago.
"I think it would give a level of comfort to the rank and file of the religious right," Anderegg said of the proposed amendment, which, if approved by the Utah Legislature would go before voters in November 2014.
He said there is already talk among lawmakers about more extensive proposals, including allowing business owners to turn down gay customers if serving them is in violation of their faith.
But Anderegg said he prefers a more narrow approach, at least for now.
"I want everyone to take a collective deep breath and relax. Just relax," he said. "This bill was not meant to be a slap on anybody."
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