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Marriage equality

Published June 26, 2013 4:12 pm

Utah's law now on shaky ground
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling Wednesday that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional will have little immediate effect on Utah's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. But there is little doubt that legal recognition of the right of gay men and lesbians to marry whomever they choose is in the Beehive State's future.

As a matter of simple fairness, that's the way it should be.

The high court's 5-4 decision says the federal government cannot deny the statutory benefits of marriage granted by states. So, in the short term, it applies only to marriages performed in the 12 states that recognize same-sex unions.

But that limitation will almost certainly be short-lived. Constitutional amendments such as Utah's that limit marriage to one man and one woman are now on shaky legal footing. It shouldn't be long before lawsuits target those laws, and the eventual outcome, based on the precedent set by the Supreme Court, will be that marriage can no longer be limited to heterosexual couples.

In the other case pitting marriage equality against religion-based opposition — involving California's Proposition 8 — the court decided that a legal technicality prevented it from hearing the case. That decision keeps intact a ruling by a federal appeals court that California cannot deny marriage benefits to same-sex couples.

The nation's most populous state now joins the other states in which same-sex couples can be married and receive all benefits bestowed by state and federal governments that straight couples have always enjoyed, making the inevitable shift to acceptance of same-sex marriage virtually unstoppable.

The majority opinion in the DOMA case clearly states the court's support of marriage equality, but does not take the step of forcing states to immediately accept the inevitable. In that way, it allows the natural evolution of acceptance that has rapidly gained momentum in recent years. Polls reflect the spreading acceptance of same-sex marriage among Americans, especially the young, and more state legislatures and courts have recognized the unions.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, "The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects ... and whose relationship the state has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples."

The only defense, and a poor one at that, for refusing to grant same-sex couples full marriage benefits is the one offered up by Utah's Rep. Chris Stewart: "When we support traditional marriage, we are defending our culture and the Judeo-Christian values upon which our nation was founded." The court rightly ruled that constitutional law is not and cannot be based on any one set of religious values.

As federal agencies, including the military, are required to provide tax, health, pension and survivor benefits to same-sex couples wed in marriage-equality states, the discrimination against other gay couples will become more obvious and eventually untenable.

It's just a matter of time.