We have just witnessed an unfortunate trading of charges and counter-charges between Gov. Mike Leavitt and Attorney General Jan Graham concerning her failure to file an amicus, or friend-of-the-court brief, in a Vermont same-sex marriage case. The political spat points out the need to clarify the relationship between the attorney general and the governor and to crystalize Utah's legal and political opposition to same-sex marriages.

Those state interests should be promulgated and protected through friend-of-the-court action in future lawsuits that inevitably will arise beyond our borders.Fortunately, both the governor and attorney general are on record as strongly opposing same-sex marriages - outlawed in Utah and all 50 states - on moral and religious grounds. But Utah should not wait for another state's same-sex case to reach the Supreme Court or to be waged on our soil before jumping fully into the fray.

Too much is at stake for the state to idly observe legal brushfires elsewhere in anticipation of a raging wildfire someday reaching the Supreme Court. At that point it may be too late to protect a hallowed institution - marriage between a man and woman - that forms the foundation of civilized society.

Unfortunate and puzzling aspects of the Graham-Leavitt flap - aside from its mean-spirited tone - include contradictory accounts of what transpired and why Graham would adamantly oppose filing essentially the same friendly brief she used in Hawaii last year.

Leavitt and top state GOP legislative leaders were irked she refused to attach Utah's name with 10 other states to an amicus initiated by Nebraska that supported Vermont's position outlawing same-sex marriages.

She said the document was of poor legal quality, had no impact in the Hawaii case lost by that state, could come back to haunt Utah legally in future lawsuits and was thrust upon her and her office by representatives of the right-wing Eagle Forum who used Leavitt to politically leverage their position. Graham accused the governor and others of politicizing an issue that she says is a legal and not a political matter.

It is both, actually, and Graham is a savvy enough politician to understand that. She must have anticipated negative fallout from her stubborn stance, which she said is supported by underlings uncomfortable with the legal caliber of the amicus in question and the manner it was put forth.

The principal author was attorney and BYU law professor Lynn Wardle, whom Graham links directly with the Eagle Forum and against whom she displays an obsessive antagonism.

She said it was unusual for a private party to prepare a friendly brief used by attorneys general for Hawaii and felt enough discomfort this time to abstain from signing on.

If that is true, Graham and her office should have sought to improve the Nebraska brief and should now produce a better one that could be modified as needed and used in future cases.

Graham pledged to do a variation of that in a May 5 letter to Leavitt. Extending an olive branch, she promised to participate and take the lead among states in any same-sex cases that reach the U.S. Supreme Court and to vigorously fight any attempts to force Utah to accept same-sex marriages performed in another state. Both would involve legalities directly relevant to Utah, which she says are missing in the Vermont case.

Whether she works directly for the governor or for the people of Utah, as she claims, Graham must understand that an overwhelming majority of citizens opposes legalizing same-sex unions and wants Utah's marriage laws and those of other states protected at all costs - partisan squabbling aside.

Graham, Leavitt and leaders of the Legislature should iron out their working relationships and collectively develop legal and political strategy to ensure that happens.