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Op-ed: Much to be proud of on Pride Day, and much more to come in Utah

Published June 6, 2014 4:52 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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

This weekend Salt Lake City is hosting a jubilant festival to celebrate the U.S. Constitution, the promotion of marriage, and the dignity of all Utah families. Leading Sunday's massive parade will be newlyweds and long-time committed couples, as well as their children and loving families.

Unfortunately, these families find themselves under siege by the government of their home state.

The State of Utah is fighting to preserve a system of discriminatory laws that targets gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens.

Utah law currently excludes gay couples from exercising their right to marry, bars them from legally adopting their children, and mandates the inculcation by public schools of negative views towards LGBT people. At every stage in life — from the moment a child has an inkling of being gay, during adolescence, throughout adulthood and all the way to the grave — LGBT Utahns remain haunted by laws that deny their existence, demean them as lesser human beings, and denigrate their lives and family relationships.

Fortunately, the inexorable march of freedom is destined to leave Utah's system of discrimination against LGBT citizens on the ash-heap of history. Over the last year, remarkable progress has been made towards dismantling Utah's system of discrimination.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to discriminate against gay citizens by adopting a definition of marriage that excluded gay couples. Utah's ban on same-sex marriage was doomed the moment the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Constitutional law of this country now protects the fundamental rights of all citizens and LGBT families are no longer strangers to the law.

Utahns should be proud that our courageous federal judges have affirmed not only the right of all Utahns to marry but also the obligation of the State of Utah to recognize their lawful marriages. U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby's decision last December to strike down Amendment 3 has been lauded in other court decisions from coast to coast for its fidelity to the Constitution and its reasoned application of Supreme Court precedent.

Judge Dale Kimball's ruling last month forbade the State from ignoring existing same-sex marriages because, as in the Supreme Court's DOMA case, "the 'principal effect' of the State's actions is 'to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.'" Judge Kimball thus rebuked Utah's attempt to retroactively void the marriages of more than 1,300 couples.

Governors and state attorney generals across the country, including Democrats and Republicans alike, have heeded this jurisprudence and have fulfilled their oaths of office and duty to enforce the Constitution by acknowledging the unconstitutionality of anti-gay laws.

In sad contrast, Utah's elected officials continue to resist the Constitution's promise of equality to gay Americans. Despite these efforts to cling to a system of legal denigration of LGBT citizens, the shameful era of discrimination by the State of Utah is nearing its end. We expect that, by end of next June, marriage equality will be firmly and finally established in every state, including Utah.

We look forward to the day when Utah's governor and other officials join the parade by sustaining the U.S. Constitution's promise of equal protection under the law for all.

Paul C. Burke, Brett L. Tolman and John W. Mackay led a team of lawyers representing the Utah Pride Center to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case that successfully challenged parts of the Defense of Marriage Act.

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