Republican Group Urges Court to Back Gay Marriage in Utah

Former Republican senators Alan Simpson and Nancy Kassebaum joined a group supporting civil marriage rights for same-sex couples in a filing with the federal appeals court reviewing gay-marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma.

Twenty Republicans describing themselves as conservatives, moderates and libertarians who embrace the “big tent” beliefs for the party espoused by Ronald Reagan said in yesterday’s filing that the benefits of marriage and social stability of the family unit “are promoted by providing access to civil marriage for same-sex couples.”

The group urged the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver to uphold lower-court rulings striking down bans on same-sex weddings in Utah and Oklahoma.

The Western Republicans’ filing shows some conservatives have changed their attitudes about gay marriage, said Sean Gallagher, a lawyer for the group. Such an action wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago, he said, saying there’s been a “change in people’s perceptions, a change in the way the legislatures are treating the issue, a change in the Supreme Court.”

Gay marriage is legal in 17 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Since the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and left intact an order striking down California’s gay-marriage ban, states now face a wave of lawsuits in which advocates seek to expand recognition of marriage rights for gay couples, possibly setting up another showdown at the high court.

Kentucky Appeal

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat, said yesterday that he’ll appeal a federal judge’s decision requiring recognition of out-of-state gay marriages while the state’s attorney general said he’ll no longer defend its prohibition of same-sex unions. Beshear said he’ll bring in outside counsel to represent the state in a federal lawsuit pending in Louisville after Attorney General Jack Conway, also a Democrat, became the seventh top state legal officer to decide against defending gay-marriage bans.

In declining to defend Kentucky’s law, Conway follows California’s Kamala Harris, Illinois’s Lisa Madigan, Pennsylvania’s Kathleen Kane, Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto, Virginia’s Mark Herring and Oregon’s Ellen Rosenblum. All are Democrats.

The issue should be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court “in order to bring finality and certainty to this matter,” Beshear said yesterday in a statement announcing the appeal. “The people of this country need to know what the rules will be going forward. Kentucky should be part of this process.”

Utah, Oklahoma

In January, the Supreme Court blocked enforcement of a ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby in Salt Lake City that Utah’s ban was unconstitutional while that case is appealed. When U.S. District Judge Terence Kern in Oklahoma struck down that state’s ban on Jan. 14, he stayed his decision to allow review before the appeals court in Denver.

On Feb. 10, attorneys general from 11 states including Michigan, Indiana, Arizona and Colorado filed legal arguments supporting Utah. Ten of the attorneys general, all Republicans, said in a joint filing that they “have an interest in protecting state power to adhere to the traditional definition of marriage.”

Fair-Minded People

In their filing yesterday, members of the Republican group said “deeply held social, cultural and religious tenets lead sincere and fair-minded people to take the opposite view.”

“No matter how strongly or sincerely they are held, the law is clear that such views cannot serve as the basis for denying a certain class of people the benefits of marriage in the absence of a legitimate fact-based governmental goal,” they said.

The group’s members, in addition to Simpson of Wyoming and Kassebaum of Kansas, include former New Mexico Governor Gary E. Johnson and six current and former state lawmakers in Colorado and Wyoming.

The group’s friend-of-the-court brief was one of at least 20 such arguments submitted yesterday by supporters and opponents of gay marriage. One of the briefs supporting gay marriage was filed by attorneys general of 14 states and the District of Columbia.

The appeals case is Kitchen v. Herbert, 13-4178, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (Denver). The Kentucky case is Love v. Beshear, 13-cv-00750, U.S. District Court, Western District of Kentucky (Louisville).