Marriage Equality in Utah

I live in Provo, Utah.

That’s liberal, progressive, gay-friendly Utah.

It’s been an amazing week.

Okay, so, last Friday, I’m on Facebook, and a friend messages me, and says, with multiple exclamation points, “Federal judge just ruled Third Amendment unconstitutional.”  Here’s how clue-less I was; my first thought was, ‘Third Amendment?  So . . . the federal government can now quarter troops in our homes?  What?’  But no.  That’s the third Amendment to the Utah Constitution.

I think.  Searching for the Utah Constitution on-line this morning, I couldn’t find the darn thing.  I saw lots of stuff about the amendment process for the Utah Constitution, but all I could find on marriage was this: Article 1, Section 29 of the Utah Constitution, to wit:  “(1) Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman.  (2) No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.” Our old pal Wikipedia’s article explains.

Last Friday, Dec. 20, a federal judge, Robert Shelby of the U.S. District Court for Utah, found that language, Amendment Three, Article 1 Section 29, unconstitutional, on Fourteenth Amendment grounds.  This article does an effective job of breaking down the legal arguments on both sides, and the reasons given by Judge Shelby for ruling the way he did.

And so, people started getting married. Salt Lake County instantly began granting marriage licenses, and Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker began to perform marriages.  A minister and his long-time partner asked if they could cut to the head of the line, so they could marry, and so he, the minister, could then also begin marrying people, for those who wanted a pastor to officiate.  As the lines grew ever longer, a local Boy Scout troop stopped by with pizza for the County Clerks working late into the night.  Since Friday, hundreds of couples have married, mostly in Salt Lake County, but also elsewhere.  At forty bucks a pop for marriage licenses, the state coffers have been enriched to the tune of (do I multiply here? let’s see, carry the four) lots of money.

The state has tried to stop it.  Which is perhaps the most hilarious aspect of the whole thing, actually, since it’s the State Attorney General’s office that has to file requests for emergency stays and motions and stuff, and that office has been in disarray for months.  The previous AG, John Swallow, turns out, was a crook, but it took forever to force him out of office, with local papers doing stories day after day exposing various kinds of malfeasance by the guy, while Governor Herbert hung in there, defending him.  So when it came time to file a request for a stay (stopping the marriages while filing an appeal of decision), the AG’s office basically just repeated the same arguments they’d used earlier, the arguments that Judge Shelby had just rejected.  Not surprising when he refused to grant the stay, nor when the 10th District Court of Appeals also refused to grant one.  I’m not an attorney, but it does seem to me that if you lose a case before a judge, and then appear before that same judge asking him to stay his opinion pending appeal, you might want to try different arguments than the ones that just lost.  Just sayin’.

And so the weddings continue.  And the Deseret News has been in fine fettle all week, with two big op-ed pieces fulminating against Judge Shelby’s ‘judicial activism.’  I was particularly struck by this passage in the first of those pieces, titled ‘Judicial Tyranny’.

It is true that state efforts to restrict marriage on the basis of race have run afoul of the federal constitutional protections against racial discrimination. But as we scour the legal landscape, we find no 10th Circuit or Supreme Court precedent that prevents Utah from adhering to a traditional definition of marriage. Nonetheless, Judge Shelby’s blithe mix-and-match approach to legal argumentation has, for the time being, created a new class of same-gender applicants deemed “married” under the Utah Constitution.

Hmmm.  On Christmas, the DN published a more optimistic piece, suggesting that Utah has a ‘historic opportunity’ to vigorously defend traditional marriage in court.  Here, though, is the second paragraph of the piece:

The unprecedented overreach by Judge Shelby — and most especially his refusal to temporarily stay the effects of his decision — has come at high cost. The immediate outcomes from Friday’s decision include a high dose of legal uncertainty for those licenses being issued under the court order as well as polarization of pubic opinion around these understandably emotional issues.

I don’t really see how Judge Shelby’s decision came at any particularly high cost. A lot of people who have been in long-term relationships got to get married.  No one was hurt; no one was harmed.  But there it is again: ‘legal uncertainty.’

In short, in both these piece, the DN is suggesting, strongly suggesting, that the marriage licenses issued by the State of Utah since last Friday may only be temporary. That Utah is seriously contemplating telling hundreds of married people that they’re not married anymore.  That people who have, for example, filed joint tax returns may have violated tax law in doing so, may have to face penalties for doing so.  What if some of those couples, over the next few weeks or months, choose to adopt children?  You’re saying they’re going to lose their kids?

I understand that feelings are high right now.  And since the Deseret News is choosing to see this as an opportunity to defend traditional marriage, once and for all, in court–imagining a sweeping decision ending all this same-sex marriage nonsense once and for all–then may I gently suggest that any such strategy has a public relations component?  That seeing what we’ve been seeing for a week now, which is hundreds of happy couples embracing and kissing and holding hands and laughing and crying for joy as they marry the people they love is really super appealing and positive and awesome?  And that coming back a year from now and telling all those people that they’re not married anymore might not, uh, play so well?  In addition to being cruel beyond imagining?

There’s clearly a lot of push-back against Shelby’s decision.  Famously conservative State Senator Stuart Reid published a really extreme op-ed piece in the Salt Lake Tribune, kind of a ‘blood will run in the streets’ thing, imagining that the commitment to ‘rule of law’ by the good citizens of Utah may come to an end over this issue.  I just don’t think so, though.  Maybe I’m optimistic, but I really think most folks will take this in stride.

I know that I’m not exactly objective here.  Two of my closest friends on earth right now are a theatre director I’ve worked with frequently, and his husband, a superb actor who has appeared in several of my plays, with more to come in the future.  They’ve adopted a wonderful little boy, cutest tyke on the planet, and are deliriously happy with him and each other. The boy calls one of them ‘Papa’ and one of them ‘Daddy.’  It works great, and they’re conscientious and caring parents, as good as any parents I know. These aren’t just people I work with professionally, or people I’m acquainted with.  These are people I love.

I also have a nephew who’s a kind of Youtube celebrity.  His marriage proposal is now up to over 11 million views, over 8,000 comments.  He and his fiancee were on CNN this morning, talking about this week’s events.  They’re wonderful guys, and I love them both dearly, and can’t wait for their actual wedding in February.

And I have more gay friends, many more, former students and current colleagues.  I’ve spent my life in the theatre; I know a few gay people.  My father was an opera singer, I grew up with gay people.  Gayness isn’t weird or wrong or unnatural or foreign or odd to me.  It’s just normal.

That’s what we’ve been seeing for days now.  It’s become extraordinarily ordinary, remarkably unremarkable.  We’re seeing all these very average looking people, ecstatically happy as they commit their lives together.  Standing in line, in a snow storm, to commit their lives together.  Utah is now
the 18th state in which gay marriage is equal.  Mindblowing.  Normal.  Wonderful.


10 thoughts on “Marriage Equality in Utah

  1. Lorian

    Yes, I think we are reaching a point where someone who argues in favor of annulling marriages of same-sex couples is going to face at least some level of blowback. And that is as it should be.

  2. Joe Bloe

    Why would you expect the Dnews, owned by the Mormon church to take a different view? (I never read DNews or watch KSL because I know their opinions and “news” will be slanted towards church teachings) The facts are, the right wing nut jobs have no way to defend themselves on this issue, so they make up things, continue the same tired, useless arguments, and assign names to those involved. If Judge Shelby had ruled in favor of the state, he would have been called a hero by the Dnews and others. He’s only an “activist” because he ruled against them. I however, will call him a hero for standing up for the rights of every Utah citizen.

  3. Carrie Ann

    It has been a wonderful week and every time I have read an article or seen a post I have celebrated for all those who can now have the same kind of happiness I have. I hope people begin to see the goodness that comes when all people are allowed to have strong relationships with those they hold the most dear. My only regret is not living closer to a courthouse where people were getting married. I would have loved to take people flowers in my own town.

  4. juliathepoet

    I loved your nephew’s proposal. I didn’t know he was related to you until today though! (Maybe this is what I get for moving to Alaska and hardly being in FaceBook?) I have been so glad to see all of the beautiful pictures of happy couples and families, coming out of Utah. If anyone had told me, two weeks ago, that Utah would beat Oregon, I never would have believed it!

    I have two good friends who were married today, and a couple of hours ago texted me the photograph. They got married wearing beautiful skirts, with matching/similar T-shirts, (their kids also had them, all in different colors) with the name of the girls camp they both went to (not at the same time, 6 years apart) on the front, and a picture of them with their 3 children, the day after the adoption was final. (They are biological siblings.) under the picture is the fMh post title: Family, Isn’t it About Time?

    It struck me as beautiful because they are all wonderfully happy, and also quintessentially Utah, at the same time. 😉

  5. Anonymous

    As a former student who is in a loving, long relationship, I can’t tell you how touching, good, freeing it is to have you champion this, and let go of the fear I have had for so many years of ever returning to my alma mater, thinking I was “an outcast” and that the University would be ashamed of me regardless of the accomplishments I have made in my life and career. Indeed, I have even stayed away from Utah thinking that I could not feel safe to be me there. How wonderful it is to see this happen there even sooner than the “liberal” state that I now live in. Again, you impress me and continue to teach me even when I am no longer in your campus classroom. Thank you teacher, you make me a better me.

  6. John English

    One quibble here. You said Herbert hung in there, defending Swallow. Herbert said several months ago that if he had the power to fire Swallow, he would.

  7. someone who knows

    there’s just one problem with the whole Pro-gay-marriage argument. Marriage is not a right.It’s a liberty and those are and CAN be controlled by the will of the people. If Judge Shelby were to pass a strictly constitutional judgement (without his own agenda) then he would not have lifted the ban.

  8. Lorian

    That’s where you are mistaken, “someone who knows.” Civil marriage is a civil right for (at least) two reasons:

    1. It was declared a civil right by SCOTUS in the Loving v. Virginia unanimous decision.
    2. There are some 1400 federal and state civil rights, protections and benefits which are attached to civil marriage, many of which cannot be obtained through any other means, including contractual arrangements. As long as there are civil rights attached to civil marriage which cannot be otherwise accessed, then civil marriage is and must remain a civil right, equally available to all.


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