Utah, Oklahoma same-sex marriage cases on parallel track

Published: Wednesday, April 16 2014 5:20 p.m. MDT

Stoll said he believes the plaintiffs' arguments for same-sex marriage in the Oklahoma case are "every bit as strong" as the Utah case.

"The briefs reflect that both cases have presented very strong, well-thought out constitutional challenges and we hope that the court will take both of those cases with the same seriousness as we saw on display last Thursday," he said.

Similar circumstances spurred the Utah lawsuit, though it moved rapidly and without the same legal entanglements as the Oklahoma case.

Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, and Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge also challenged the Utah ban after a county clerk denied them marriage licenses last year. Another couple, Karen Archer and Kate Call, who were legally married in Iowa, claim Utah law bars them from being treated the same as heterosexual couples because it does not recognize their marriage as valid.

The plaintiffs in Utah sued the governor and the attorney because those positions are charged with seeing that state laws are executed.

In December, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled that Utah's Amendment 3 denied same-sex couples their constitutional rights of due process and equal protection under the law. About 1,300 couples were married until the Supreme Court issued a stay after the 10th Circuit declined to do so.

A few weeks later, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern found that Oklahoma’s ban violated equal protection guarantees. He delayed his ruling from going into effect while the case was appealed.

“Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions," he wrote in a 68-page decision.

Kern ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Windsor props up both the couples challenging the law and state officials defending it.

The Windsor decision, the judge said, supports a plea for marriage equality because much of the reasoning of the high court majority about the purpose behind the Defense of Marriage Act could also be applied to state bans on same-sex marriage. It also supports the state because of the lengthy commentary in the opinion about states’ primary power to define marriage.

Kern also ruled that the couple married in California was not in a legal position to challenge the lack of recognition in Oklahoma. That question also sits before the 10th Circuit judges.

Legal standing or whether the parties have the right to pursue the case could be an issue the 10th Circuit judges ask about Thursday. Holmes raised it last week in the Utah hearing. Both sides appeared to adequately explain why they have standing.

Contributing: Peter Samore

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy; DNewsPolitics

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