Saturday, December 21, 2013

Utah Becomes 18th State Offering Marriage Equality

Rt Rev. Scott Hayashi participating with Integrity Utah members in this year's Pride celebration. Photo by Integrity Utah

Utah became the 18th state offering marriage equality on Friday, December 20, 2013, when a federal judge on Friday struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. "The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason. Accordingly the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional," wrote U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby of Utah in the 53-page decision.

Shelby enjoined the state from enforcing two statutes that ban same-sex marriage. Also included was Amendment 3, added to the state’s constitution in 2004. This appellate court handles the cases for Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma. It arrived one day after the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality.

According to the Rt. Rev. Scott B Hayashi of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah:
"I rejoice that U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby has struck down Utah's Amendment 3. All people should have the right to due process and equal protection enshrined in the 14th Amendment. Gay and lesbian people are human beings with hopes, dreams, and the need for love. I celebrate that now they will have access to the same fulfillment enjoyed by heterosexual people. They are people made in the image of God."
Hundreds descended on county clerk offices to receive their marriage licenses. First Baptist Church Pastor Curtis Price, dressed in his black vestments and rainbow-colored stole, was among the officials who were marrying couples in Salt Lake City. Michael Ferguson, 32, and Seth Anderson, 31, were the first to receive a license in Salt Lake City and marry. Cheers rang as Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker married State Sen. Jim Dabakis, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, to his longtime partner, Stephen Justesen.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Utah Acting Attorney General Brian L. Tarbet are planning ways to overturn this decision. Hours after the ruling, the Utah attorney general’s office appealed the decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. It also filed a motion asking Shelby to stay the ruling while the office seeks to defend Utah’s Amendment 3.

The ruling is striking given the state's long activist stand against marriage equality. The state's citizens predominantly belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many Mormons expressed disappointment in the decision. The county of Provo, known as the conservative heartland of the conservative state, as of the evening was still not granting licenses as the decision was reviewed by the county clerk office. A group called Mormons for Equality, however, applauded the ruling, saying it was particularly sweet coming in "the heartland of our faith."

In the spirit of reconciliation and care for all, Bishop Hayashi added:
"Many people will find this ruling difficult. The change that this represents will cause them heartache, frustration, and a feeling that our country is going in the wrong direction. Understanding, compassion and prayer for people who deplore this decision is important. They are people made in the image of God. I will be offering my prayers for them.
We are one people. We are one state. We can and must work to make Utah into the place where all people are treated with respect and dignity, and where God is seen in the face of each and every person. As the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, I will continue to welcome all people into The Episcopal Church."
The number of states moving towards marriage equality has risen to eighteen in the past year. Said Jon Davidson, director of Lambda Legal, said that should this ruling stand it will be"up from six before the U.S. Supreme Court last summer struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The District of Columbia also allows same-sex marriage."

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