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Utah plaintiffs ask U.S. Supreme Court to hear gay marriage case

First Published Aug 28 2014 04:53PM      Last Updated Oct 10 2014 07:10 pm

Plaintiffs challenging Utah's gay marriage ban, from left, Derek Kitchen, his partner Moudi Sbeity, Kate Call, her partner Karen Archer, Laurie Wood and her partner Kody Partridge stand together after leaving court following a hearing at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Thursday, April 10, 2014. The court is to decide if it agrees with a federal judge in Utah who in mid-December overturned a 2004 voter-passed gay marriage ban, saying it violates gay and lesbian couples' rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

For the three gay couples who on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up Utah’s same-sex marriage appeal, it’s no longer just about Utah.

Having won at the district court, and then the federal appeals court, the three plaintiff couples in Utah’s historic Kitchen v. Herbert lawsuit are ready to go to the nation’s high court and put it all on the line.

Win here, and the couples would legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country; lose and, Utah has said, the state would revert back to its "status quo" of marriage being strictly allowed between one man and one woman.

"Today, our nation’s same-sex couples and their children live in a country where they may be denied legal recognition as a family or may find their marriages invalidated simply by virtue of crossing a state line," according to the brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Utah’s request that the court hear its case.

"This court should grant the petition and hold that denying same-sex couples the fundamental freedom to marry and to have their marriages recognized violates our nation’s cherished and essential constitutional guarantees."

It’s not a question for the plaintiffs — Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity; Kody Partridge and Laurie Wood; and Kate Call and Karen Archer.

If they’re going to win, their attorneys said, it’s going to be all or nothing.

"These couples and many others like them in Utah want nothing more, and nothing less, than to be able to marry the person they love and to have their marriages respected on an equal basis with other married couples in this country," said Peggy Tomsic, who, along with her firm Magleby and Greenwood, represents the three Utah couples. "This is one country, and we have only one Constitution. We hope the Supreme Court will review this case and affirm the 10th Circuit’s ruling that same-sex couples have the same fundamental freedom to marry as others and that the law must treat their families equally."

On Thursday, the couples filed a brief asking the nation’s high court to weigh in on the question of whether all citizens — gay, straight and otherwise — have a fundamental right to marry.

Utah has contended that they don’t, and that states, and by extension, its citizens, have the right to define marriage as they wish. In Utah’s case, that means as a union between a man and a woman.

In its petition to the high court, filed on Aug. 5, Utah outlined why this state’s case would be the ideal one for the high court to take: because the court, which granted two stay requests from Utah, is familiar with the issues in this state; that a "majority" of Utah’s politicians are "united in defending Utah’s marriage laws"; and that "there is no need to let the issue percolate even more."

The state also articulated the crux of its case: that marriage is an institution created to protect the welfare of children; and in affirming that the "freedom of choice to marry" supersedes state-imposed limitations, the country could be drawn down a slippery slope toward polygamy.

"The harm in waiting is significant, regardless of which side prevails," Utah wrote. "Either thousands of couples are being denied their constitutional right to marry, or millions of voters are being disenfranchised of their fundamental right to retain the definition of marriage that has existed since before the People ratified the United States Constitution."

Thursday’s filing by the plaintiffs is unusual in that they’ve already won in lower courts, but it’s a route lesbian and gay couples from Virginia and Oklahoma have also taken in recent weeks.

Same-sex marriage bans in Virginia and Oklahoma also have been found unconstitutional by federal appeals courts. Those states also have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take on their cases.

In each case, the plaintiffs have echoed this desire to have the high court decide whether same-sex couples have a "fundamental right to marriage," as has been found by the 10th and 4th Circuit Courts of Appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court is on summer break through October. At that point, the justices will reconvene and decide which — if any — same-sex marriage cases the court will take.

"As more and more courts affirm that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, it becomes harder to countenance the profound inequality in states that continue to deny that right to our nation’s gay and lesbian citizens," the plaintiffs’ brief stated. "Same-sex couples in Utah cannot experience full equality until this court makes clear that the Constitution’s protection of their families does not evaporate when they cross state lines. Prolonging this uncertainty for same-sex couples and their families harms them and disserves our nation."



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