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Joy, jeers as Supreme Court gives gay marriage a boost

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"Regardless of the court decision," said spokesman Michael Otterson, "the church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children."

Even so, the issue isn’t so clear-cut for some Mormons, particularly the younger generation.

At a glance

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Kolbie Astle, a 20-year-old Utah State University student interning in Washington, held down a spot outside the high court Wednesday to witness history.

"I have a lot of friends who are gay, and I’m a Mormon," she said. "I just think that people who have come to terms with who they are and are still able to practice their religion and able to have that relationship with God, I really respect that."

More and more Americans have come to embrace same-sex unions, according to polls that show support shifting dramatically during the past decade.

Among them, Brett Tolman, a former U.S. attorney for Utah who co-wrote the Utah Pride Center’s friend-of-the-court argument and who saw Wednesday’s high court rulings as a sign that the justices may be moving toward gutting state bans on gay marriage.

"This is the beginning of acknowledging equal marriage," Tolman said, "and I am more hopeful than disappointed."

In the DOMA ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy actually mirrored the Utah Pride Center’s argument to the court that barring rights for same-sex couples gives them a "second-tier marriage."

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

In his dissent, Scalia scolded his colleagues for their reluctance to say that the government’s powers don’t include defining marriage.

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"Such a suggestion would be impossible," Scalia wrote in a footnote, "given the federal government’s long history of making pronouncements regarding marriage — for example, conditioning Utah’s entry into the Union upon its prohibition of polygamy."

Like Scalia, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a former Supreme Court clerk and a Latter-day Saint, worries that the justices in the future may strike down state-based marriage laws such as Utah’s voter-endorsed Amendment 3.

"I hope," he said, "the court will respect its own decision and the constitutional rights of Utahns and citizens of every state to legislate in their own states according to their beliefs and values."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah and a Mormon, echoed those concerns, saying he fears the high court is "moving in the wrong direction" and emphasizing that the issue should take prominence in future presidential elections.

The Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake City-based conservative think tank, vowed to keep fighting for Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.

"For now, nothing changes for Utah in support of faith, family and freedom," institute President Paul Mero said in a news release, "each is preserved, though each will continue to come under legal, political and cultural attack from homosexual activists."

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, an opponent of gay marriage, highlighted the fact that the court didn’t redefine marriage nationwide.

"Time is not on the side of those seeking to create same-sex ‘marriage,’ " Perkins said in a statement that included the word marriage in quotes. "As the American people are given time to experience the actual consequences of redefining marriage, the public debate and opposition to the redefinition of natural marriage will undoubtedly intensify."

tburr@sltrib.com, mcanham@sltrib.com, imarkham@sltrib.com

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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