SALT LAKE CITY — Gene Schaerr, hired by the state to help defend Utah's Amendment 3, was accused Wednesday of taking the job "to impose a certain religious viewpoint," but Attorney General Sean Reyes says the attorney was selected because of his expertise in constitutional and appellate law.
According to an email circulated online Wednesday, Schaerr told co-workers at the Washington, D.C., law firm Winston & Strawn that he was resigning to "fulfill what I have come to see as a religious and family duty: defending constitutionality of traditional marriage in the state where my church is headquartered and where most of my family resides."
The Human Rights Campaign, a national organization that works to ensure equal rights for LGBT people, said Wednesday that Schaerr's motivation was religious rather than an interest in defending whether the state's voter-approved definition of marriage is constitutional.
"Schaerr's entire motivation for taking this anti-equality case is to impose a certain religious viewpoint on all Utahns, and that's wrong," said Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign's communications vice president. "When you become an attorney, you take an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, not any particular religious doctrine."
Reyes said Wednesday that Schaerr was selected to argue the state's case because of his extensive experience with constitutional and appellate law. The review process that winnowed applicants for the job never mentioned religion, he said.
"Mr. Schaerr was hired because he was the most qualified applicant and gives us the best chance to win," the attorney general said. "Any intimation that he was hired for reasons other than his qualifications, his understanding of the Constitution and his mastery of the legal issues in this case are offensive and detract from the civility this case merits."
Reyes said Schaerr has an 80 percent win rate in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and has won 75 percent of federal appeals he has argued.
Schaerr, who is from Kanab, earned an undergraduate degree at BYU and a law degree at Yale.
He was named lead outside counsel last week as the state prepares to appeal a federal judge's ruling declaring Amendment 3 unconstitutional. The amendment was approved by 66 percent of voters in 2004 and defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby opened a 17-day window where same-sex marriages were permitted in Utah until the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a stay, stopping the practice.
On Tuesday, the state was granted an extension to prepare to appeal the decision in the 10th Circuit in Denver. Utah's opening brief must now be filed by Feb. 3.