Utah Will Ask U.S. Supreme Court to Block Gay Marriage

U.S. Supreme Court
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples legally married in states that allowed it. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Utah is preparing to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block a ruling by a federal judge in Salt Lake City that declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, the Utah attorney general’s office said.

The office said it’s coordinating with outside lawyers to file the appeal, following the state’s failure on Dec. 24 to persuade the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver to grant an emergency request to put the Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby on hold while Utah appeals it.

“The filing of the appeal may be delayed for a few days,” according to a statement yesterday on the office website. “It is the intent of the Attorney General’s Office to file with the Supreme Court as soon as possible.”

Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia have now legalized gay marriage. New Mexico, the only state without a law specifically allowing or prohibiting gay marriage, was barred by its highest court on Dec. 19 from denying same-sex couples the right to marry. Ohio was ordered by a federal judge on Dec. 23 to recognize gay marriages on death certificates, according to the Associated Press.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples legally married in states that allowed it. The court also reinstated a federal judge’s order allowing gay marriages in California, ruling that opponents of gay marriage didn’t have legal standing to defend a voter-approved ban on same-sex weddings.

Utah Governor

Utah Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, named Sean D. Reyes to serve as Utah’s attorney general through 2014, replacing John Swallow, who resigned in November, Herbert said in a Dec. 23 statement. Brian L. Tarbet is currently serving as acting attorney general. Reyes has served as a county, state and national delegate for the Republican Party, according to the statement.

“I want all Utahns to understand I am committed to advancing this issue through the judicial system as we work toward a clear and understandable resolution,” Herbert said in a Dec. 23 statement about gay marriage. “I recognize that this is a highly emotional issue with people of goodwill on both sides of the debate. I encourage everyone to remain respectful of one another and of the legal process.”

Shelby wrote in his Dec. 20 opinion that “Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law.” The judge, 43, was appointed in 2011 by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and was confirmed last year.

‘Fundamental Right’

“The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason,” Shelby concluded.

Ryan Bruckman, a spokesman for the Utah attorney general’s office, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call and an e-mail seeking comment on yesterday’s filing.

John Mejia, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Utah, said local reports indicate that more than 1,200 licenses have been issued to same-sex couples since Shelby’s ruling.

“I think that it is disappointing, but not surprising, that Utah is trying to get the Supreme Court involved,” Mejia said yesterday in an e-mail. “I think, however, that the Tenth Circuit made clear that Utah’s arguments don’t stand much of a chance.”

The case is Kitchen v. Herbert, 13-cv-00217, U.S. District Court, District of Utah (Salt Lake City).