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Utah Pride Center pushes for marriage equality in Supreme Court cases

By Emiley Morgan | Posted - Jan 30th, 2013 @ 7:47pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Pride Center announced Wednesday that it will voice its support for marriage equality to the U.S. Supreme Court in two pending cases.

In both the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 cases, the Utah Pride Center will file an amicus brief with the court. It hopes to raise an awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in Utah, as well as urge the court to scrutinize discrimination laws and recognize a federal right to marriage equality.

"I think, much like what happened in the South with civil rights, this is an opportunity the courts have to solve an overarching problem, and this opportunity may not come again in our lifetime," said Valerie Larabee, the center's executive director.

Others this week challenged the characterization of the Defense of Marriage Act as a civil rights issue.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Tuesday filed amicus briefs in support of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, both of which confirm the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

The brief cites case law to claim that "there is no fundamental right to marry a person of the same sex." A report by the Conference of Catholic Bishops notes that the brief states "as defined by courts, 'sexual orientation' is not a classification that should trigger heightened scrutiny," such as race or ethnicity would.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service were also a part of the filing.

Larabee said Utah's voice in the fight for marriage equality has been "distinguished" and "extremely visible" to the country, and the Utah Pride Center wants to make sure it takes part in the larger effort to support equal rights.

"The amicus brief is an important step for us in the community, and specifically for us as Utah Pride, because we have lifted many, many voices over the years as we work to change hearts and minds within this wonderful state," she said, "and also helped support those who are struggling in communities and families where our issues and our lives are so misunderstood."

The center has hired Brett Tolman, former U.S. attorney for Utah, and Paul Burke, founding member of the Utah Democratic Lawyers Council, to represent it.

"The brief of the Utah Pride Center will describe the system of discrimination that has been set up in the state of Utah," Burke said. "The amicus brief of Utah Pride Center will argue that the United States Supreme Court recognize that laws affecting the LGBT community should be subjected to heightened judicial scrutiny, and the brief will also argue that the United States Supreme Court should also recognize a federal right to marriage equality."

Tolman said it is unclear how many other states may be filing amicus briefs as the deadlines are Feb. 28 and March 1, but he expects to see briefs filed on both sides of the cases. He said he hopes the court will be decisive and not leave room for states to continue with a "patchwork approach" to LGBT laws.

"Why this is significant is this brief is going to be saying to the Supreme Court: 'Please reach the ultimate issue of marriage equality,'" Tolman said. "I think it is a monumental moment. I think that it is a crossroads in our history that we will look back at as another opportunity for individuals to stand up and be counted on civil equality."

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