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Utah gay marriage case could be precedent-setting

Published January 22, 2014 7:30 am
Court • Director of national lesbian rights center says justices will take up issue soon.
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A new lawsuit filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is one of dozens of gay marriage-related cases around the country that could soon convince the U.S. Supreme Court to make a decisive ruling on the issue.

"Let's just be disabused of any notion that [the justices are] not paying attention," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "If they believe it's inevitable, and that the nation is more or less with them, that is going to be very important in an ultimate victory in front of the U.S. Supreme Court."

As it stands, there are 42 cases around the country similar to the ACLU of Utah lawsuit, she said. It was filed over the state's decision to freeze recognition of gay couples married after a federal judge struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage and before the Supreme Court issued a stay on the unions.

The continuing legal battle over the state's gay marriage ban could end up setting national precedent on the issue.

"I think the Utah case is a very compelling case ... but it would be a total crapshoot to guess whether that's the case they take," said Kendell, though she said the high court will have to weigh in definitively on same-sex marriage in the next one to three years.

"It's just untenable," she said. The National Center for Lesbian Rights joined the legal fight over Utah's gay marriage ban, now in front of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, as co-counsel earlier this month.

Kendell spoke Tuesday at S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, her alma mater, about her Mormon upbringing in Ogden and her view of the way forward on gay rights.

"My mom loved her church and she loved me, and she held those two realities effortlessly. If she did it, anyone can do it," she said. She encouraged the audience to reach out to "unlikely allies" and those who are firmly against same-sex marriage — sometimes with doughnuts.

"People will be writing about this moment and your courage and your patience and your kindness and your caring," she said, "and they will say how they did it in Utah is how we ultimately won."

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst

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