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Herbert: Supreme Court challenge is not a sure thing

Published June 26, 2014 2:07 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Gov. Gary Herbert expressed uncertainty about whether Utah would prevail in its appeal of a court ruling overturning Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, but said the case should move to the Supreme Court as quickly as possible and, if Utah loses, the state will honor gay marriages.

"We can speculate and suppose what the outcome will be but we don't know," Herbert said during his monthly KUED news conference, the day after a panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 2-1 opinion striking down Utah's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"I suspect if we appeal to the Supreme Court it will be a split decision again," Herbert said, reiterating earlier comments that he would like to see the case move to the high court as quickly as possible to resolve the issue. "They're not always right, the Supreme Court, but they're always last."

Should the justices hear the case and again rule against the state, Herbert said the state will give full recognition to same-sex marriages.

"Once the law is the law of the land, my job is to respect it and enforce it," Herbert said.

The governor downplayed the potential expense of going to the Supreme Court. He said the anticipated cost has already been built into state budgets. He also expressed support for Gene Schaerr, the attorney hired by the state to lead Utah's defense of its marriage ban.

Herbert said his own opinion about same-sex marriage is irrelevant to his belief that the appeals should continue, rather it is his belief that a resolution is in the best interest of all sides. If Utah's law had been written "to allow same-sex marriage, I'd be defending that law," he said.

The governor would not say if Utah would seek a review of Wednesday's decision by a full panel of the 10th Circuit, or if the state would just ask the Supreme Court to take the case. He just wants a resolution to the issue.

"This is a significantly important issue, landmark probably in its outcome," Herbert said. "[Same-sex marriage] is not like typical lawsuits out there."

In other issues, Herbert said he still hopes to reach an agreement with the Obama Administration on his "Healthy Utah" plan for expanding health coverage to low-income Utahns. Herbert said he believes 111,000 poor Utahns can get coverage entirely with federal money and potentially even save dollars.

If, after three years, the program is not working or employers are found to be dropping coverage and moving workers to the state system, then a "fallback" position is possible, where benefits could be dropped for those making between 100 and 133 percent of the poverty level.