Utah gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, says he will vote for a "traditional marriage" amendment to the Utah Constitution this November and hopes it will pass.
Democratic candidate Scott Matheson Jr. says he stands with GOP Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and his own Democratic Party attorney general candidate Greg Skordas in opposing Amendment 3, adding that the issue is best solved through statutes, not a constitutional amendment.
In supporting the controversial amendment, Huntsman turns his back on legal advice given by his own party's sitting attorney general. Shurtleff and Skordas say the proposed amendment's language is flawed and Utahns should vote it down.
Huntsman told the Deseret Morning News Monday that should Utahns approve Amendment 3, as it is officially called on the ballot, he will work to pass complementary new laws that would allow "life partners" to have legal rights short of actually being married.
Huntsman calls this "reciprocal beneficiary" legislation meaning that partners could enter into contracts, attend to the medical needs of their loved ones and so on. "Two people with mutual economic interests should have rights and privileges, such as visitation rights, medical decision-making."
Such legislation is needed, Huntsman said, even if Amendment 3 fails at the polls. "If I'm lucky enough to be elected governor, I'll be working with (the 2005) Legislature to see such laws enacted," he added.
Huntsman said in recent weeks after Shurtleff, Skordas and Libertarian attorney general candidate Andrew McCullough all publicly opposed passage of Amendment 3 he has talked with both backers and opponents of the measure, "legislators, those loosely affiliated with the issue and legal experts" to come up with what he believes is a reasonable approach: Pass the amendment now and then adopt new laws defining how the amendment is to be implemented.
Huntsman said that among others, he's personally talked with legal experts at Brigham Young University and the conservative Sutherland Institute in coming up with his "traditional marriage" strategy.
While opponents say the second part of Amendment 3 is a costly lawsuit waiting to happen a lawsuit Utah may well lose in the federal courts Huntsman says he's convinced that "we can have both the amendment and new laws" that can stand up to court challenges.
"Nevada and Hawaii are working through this process now," Huntsman said. "And I believe we can do the same."
Matheson is the dean of the University of Utah's law school who sat on the state's Constitutional Revision Commission, which studies Utah's basic document and makes recommendations on changing it.
"I've spent years studying our constitution," he said, "and I simply agree with our attorney general's analysis" the amendment is flawed.
"I do support traditional marriage. I support the current laws," which define marriage as between a man and a woman and ban gay marriages, Matheson said.
Amendments to the state's constitution should not create more problems than they solve and especially shouldn't take away any rights of citizens, Matheson said.
Amendment 3 may do both.
"The second part of this amendment goes way beyond the definition of a traditional marriage and may be very hurtful to many Utah families, like taking away the ability to make medical decisions" for loved ones the person may not be legally married to, Matheson said.
Finally, Amendment 3 could harm Utah's economic development efforts, Matheson said. "Many growing companies now have dependent policies" that include benefits for non-married partners of employees. "And those policies may not be in effect" in Utah, should the amendment pass. Company bosses may not want to locate in a state where they can't provide those benefits, he added.
Huntsman said if Amendment 3 passes, "I'll vigorously defend it in the courts."
But Skordas said adoption of the amendment just means "decades of litigation" and banning gay marriages can be done just as effectively and much less costly by passing statutes, not constitutional amendments.
"This could enmesh the state in expensive legislation," Matheson added.
Huntsman said, "If it fails, I'll work with legislators, legal experts and others to draft a new amendment that will pass."
Matheson said he doesn't see much political impact to his opposing the amendment, adding in months of campaigning few people have asked him about it. "I believe most Utahns care about how I differ (with Huntsman) on funding education, economic development, water and transportation needs," not on a marriage amendment.
If he had his way, would Huntsman have included Part 2 of the amendment? Yes, he said.
Part 2 is what Matheson, Shurtleff, Skordas and others object to. It reads: "No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect."
Matheson said the amendment was "drafted hastily in the final days" of the 2004 Legislature; the process not "carefully and responsibly" conducted.
In a statement issued earlier this month, Shurtleff, who has crossed swords with the right wing of his party before, said, "This amendment goes too far. It could forever deny to a group of citizens (those who live together but can't by law marry) the right to approach its Legislature to seek benefits and protections. This is bad law and should be rejected." While he supports banning gay marriages, Shurtleff said this is the wrong amendment to do that.
"It is important to define what marriage is and what it isn't," Huntsman said. "And Part 2 of the amendment does that," he said.However, Huntsman said while he "strongly supports" a constitutional amendment to outline what is a "traditional marriage" and so specifically ban gay marriages, he said it's up to Utah voters to decide if Amendment 3 is the right amendment to accomplish that. And if they should reject it, then another effort should be started in the 2005 Legislature to adopt a more acceptable constitutional amendment for the 2006 ballot.
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