So we’re at a work holiday party at the Marriott yesterday, when an ex-mormon friend and coworker rushed up to me to show me “breaking news” on his phone. It simply stated that a federal judge had overturned Utah’s Amendment 3, which prohibited same sex marriage.
This was a total surprise to me as it has only been the day before when the New Mexico Supreme Court had issued a ruling saying that same-sex marriage in that state would be legal, based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year, which had lead to me and my husband flying to Minnesota to get married.
I thought when I read about New Mexico, that it would be a long time until we saw this happen in Utah.
But the very next day?
“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,” wrote U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby in the 53-page decision. “Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.”
The ruling is the first federal decision on a state law banning same-sex marriages or denying recognition of legal same-sex marriages since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision this summer that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Attorneys Peggy A. Tomsic and James E. Magleby, who represented the plaintiffs, hailed what they said was a historic, courageous decision to bring marriage equality to Utah for all same-sex couples “who desire to marry or have their legal marriage from another state recognized in Utah.”
If the decision stands, it will “provide legal precedent to support other plaintiffs’s constitutional challenges to similar state laws in the remaining states where there is marriage inequality,” they said in a statement.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which remained on the sidelines during the district court process unfolding in its home state, broke that silence Friday.
“The church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with respect,” said spokesman Cody Craynor. “This ruling by a district court will work its way through the judicial process. We continue to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state constitution that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court.”
Other reactions cross the political and religious spectrum. While the LDS Church voiced support for the state’s position, Mormons for Equality called it a “thrilling” confirmation of the right to civil marriage. The Human Rights Campaign called it a recognition of “fundamental equality” while the National Organization on Marriage said the decision was a “travesty of justice” and an example of “vetoing the voters from the bench.”
Shelby said he agreed that marriage has traditionally been left to states to regulate, as Utah argued, but those laws must comply with the Constitution.
“The issue the court must address in this case is not who should define marriage, but the narrow question of whether Utah’s current definition of marriage is permissible under the Constitution,” the judge said.
Of course, Utah Governor Herbert is rushing to put a stay on this ruling to disallow licenses and marriages until they can challenge it. Meanwhile Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, with approval of District Attorney Sim Gill, began performing marriages post haste within an hour of the ruling — and indicated he would stay as long as he had to keep it going.
We are living in exponentially changing times.