Utahns offer mixed reactions to same-sex marriage ruling

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns' reactions were mixed Friday to the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country.

"Love wins," said Kent Frogley, Utah Pride Center board chairman. "Love wins and so does our country, and equality feels great."

In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled that the 14th Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples and recognize lawful same-sex marriages performed in other states.

"This truly is a historic day," said Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams. "It marks a turning point for LGBT rights in the country. This nation has always been a work in progress, and in the United States, we haven't always been united. But today … we became a more perfect union."

Equality Utah, the Utah Pride Center, the ACLU of Utah and Restore Our Humanity rallied Friday evening at City Creek Park to celebrate the news.

Gov. Gary Herbert said marriage, as defined by Utahns, has been redefined — first by the federal courts and now by the Supreme Court upholding those decisions.

"I am disappointed with the decision by the court to usurp state authority and overrule the voice of the people of Utah as demonstrated by legislation with regard to marriage," Herbert said. "I am also very concerned with the overwhelming trend to diminish state autonomy. I believe states should have the right to determine their own laws regarding marriage."

Church responses

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledged that the ruling makes same-sex marriage legal in the United States but will not change its doctrine on marriage.

"The court's decision does not alter the Lord's doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice," the church's statement said.

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said the court's decision does not end the debate on the definition of marriage.

"As Catholics, we seek to uphold our traditional belief in marriage as a sacrament, a well-established and divinely revealed covenant between one man and one woman, a permanent and exclusive bond meant to provide a nurturing environment for children and the fundamental building block to a just society," according to a statement.

The court's decision does not alter the Lord's doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God.

–LDS Church statement

A leader of the Episcopal Church, which is meeting in Salt Lake City for the church’s 78th convention, said she was "elated" that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states.

"As we Christians are known to say from time to time: Alleluia," said the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies. "Like many of my fellow Christians, I support marriage equality not in spite of my faith but because of it."

In 2012, the Episcopal Church authorized a provisional rite of blessing for same-sex relationships. Delegates to the church’s ongoing convention are expected to further refine the church’s policies and positions on marriage.

Gay and lesbian couples already can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The court's ruling means the remaining 14 states, in the South and Midwest, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.

Supreme Court decision

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, just as he did in the court's previous three major gay rights cases dating back to 1996.

Same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry and no longer may that liberty be denied to them, he wrote.

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family, Kennedy wrote. "Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, "If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. … But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it."

Bill Duncan, director of the Sutherland Institute's Center for Family and Society, said marriage has been recognized for millennia in virtually all societies as the union of a husband and wife.

Marriage, he said, encouraged those whose relationship alone could create a child to commit to one another and to any children their union would produce.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has now said this understanding of marriage is prohibited by the majority’s interpretation of the Constitution. That is clearly wrong," Duncan said.

"Nothing in the language or intent of the 14th Amendment prohibits the states from recognizing the glaring reality that men and women are different and that an institution made up of both is different from one in which either is excluded."

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said five "unelected" judges imposed their views on a country that is still making up its mind about marriage.

"That is unfortunate, but it is not the end of the discussion, as Americans of good faith who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman will continue to live as witnesses to that truth," he said.

The Supreme Court last weighed in on the issue in June 2013 when it overturned a section of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman for purposes of federal law. The court ruled in U.S. v. Windsor that the government must give the same benefits to gay married couples as it does to heterosexual married couples.

Utah role

Though Utah wasn't part of the high court's decision on same-sex marriage, it played a significant role in the final outcome. U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby was the first federal judge to rule on a state's marriage law subsequent to the high court ruling in Windsor.

In December 2013, Shelby struck down Utah's voter-approved Amendment 3 defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, saying it violated equal protection and due process guarantees in the 14th Amendment.

He found in Kitchen v. Herbert that state law denied gays and lesbians the fundamental right to marry and demeaned the dignity of same-sex couples for no rational reason.

Shelby's decision laid the groundwork and provided support for judges' opinions in courts around the country, almost all of which agreed not only with the result but often with his reasoning.

Utah appealed Shelby's ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the federal judge in a 2-1 decision. The state then turned to the Supreme Court. The justices declined to hear Utah's case in October 2014, letting stand the 10th Circuit's decision and making same-sex marriage legal in the state.

More reaction

"I'm ecstatic," said Peggy Tomsic, the Salt Lake lawyer who represented three couples in the Utah case. "I couldn't be happier."

Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, one of the couples who filed the lawsuit in March 2013 after Salt Lake County denied them marriage licenses, said they cried with joy when they heard the news.

"This is a decision that is met with joy by so many people," Wood said, adding that she felt as though a heavy weight has been lifted from the LGBT community.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said the ruling acknowledges what Utahns have always known — families come in all shapes and sizes, and each of them is worthy of respect and legal protections

"In addition to recognizing the rights of the individual, we also recognize the rights of religious institutions to not be compelled to act against their beliefs," he said.

Utah House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said that while the issue has been divisive, everyone has the right to their own moral and religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage.

I'm ecstatic. I couldn't be happier.

–Peggy Tomsic, SLC attorney

"But we welcome this ruling because it makes clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation is not acceptable under the Constitution and that families of all types are entitled to protection under the law," he said.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said in light of Friday's ruling, "we must all remember to treat each other with kindness and love."

Stewart said he personally believes marriage is best defined between one man and one woman, and wished that the courts would have deferred to the states.

"Moving forward, we must now work to protect the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment respecting the establishment of religion and allowing the free exercise thereof," he said.

Mary Summerhays, founder of Celebration of Marriage, said the credibility of the judicial system has been permanently damaged as it concluded that adult relationships are so important that children must give up their relationship with their own mother or father when it comes into conflict with gay marriage.

The court, she said, turned a blind eye to a child's need for both a father and a mother.

This causes irreparable rifts in every aspect of family law, from custody battles in divorce courts, to adoptions that idealize motherless and fatherless family structures," Summerhays said. "The resulting fracture of family law will weaken Americans’ natural respect for the court and turn the question of children’s legal relationships into an unresolvable and painful chaos."

Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, said the LGBT community has reason to celebrate, but government should get out of the marriage business.

"Today's opinion — and let's be clear, that's all it is — provides an opportunity for lawmakers to reconsider their long-standing support for government intervention in such an important societal relationship," he said.

Boyack said the group intends to encourage elected officials to consider a proposal to repeal government licensure of marriage, allowing churches, notaries public, and others to privately officiate and sanction such unions.

Contributing: Andrew Adams, Ashley Kewish, Katie McKellar, Marjorie Cortez


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