No, You’re Not Seeing Things – Marriage Equality Now In Utah!

No, You're Not Seeing Things - Marriage Equality Now In Utah!

A Circuit Court Judge has ruled that Utah must recognize and allow same-sex marriage in their state. The first marriage licenses were issued that same day. – Picture from Moudi Sbeity

Somebody build a L.L. Bean in Hell because it just started snowing down there! Snow is forecast for the underworld because Utah — yes, Utah! — is the 18th state to honor marriage equality. Oh, it wasn’t the residents of the state nor their legislature that cleared the way for marriage equality in the Beehive state. It took a court. But it got done… for now.

It took a federal judge to allow marriage equality.

On Friday afternoon, the time usually reserved for the “Friday afternoon news dump,” the news came out of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled, in a 53-page decision:

“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.”

It didn’t take long for couples to gather at county clerk offices around the state to apply for a marriage license. The first marriage license was issued in Salt Lake City, where a First Baptist minister (I know!) was standing by to perform the wedding ceremonies. Michael Ferguson and Seth Anderson became the first legally married gay couple in Utah. Hurrah for marriage equality!

Reaction from Utah’s governor and attorney general were no surprise.

Predictably enough, Utah’s governor and Attorney General moved to set aside the decision. Mere hours after the ruling came down, AG Brian Tarbet’s office sought an emergency stay. Their rationale? Nobody else had ever made this decision before in the 10th Circuit. In other words, “we don’t want to be first to get called out for being bigots.” Just this afternoon, a federal judge said he would not rule about the stay for several days. Considering that Christmas falls mid-week and then New Year’s… well it may take until next year before he takes this up. Shucky darn.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert had a sad. He released a statement that was just full of butthurt:

“I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah. I am working with my legal counsel and the acting Attorney General to determine the best course to defend traditional marriage within the borders of Utah.”

Don’t you love it how judges who decide against backwards and exclusive laws are “activist” while judges that support the right’s narrow ideals are just fine? I give you Justice Scalia as a prime example.

Yes, the voters of Utah did amend the state constitution in 2004 to ban marriage equality. But just because a majority of people in a state decide to be bigots doesn’t mean that it’s constitutional. Because it’s not. Our nation’s Constitution trumps this sort of state-sponsored prejudice.

Meet the plaintiffs who filed the case.

Moudi Sbeity and Derek. L. Kitchen were one of the couples who filed a lawsuit to have Amendment 3 struck down. They sell their Mediterranean-style spreads all over the state, at farmer’s markets. They are thrilled that they can now continue their business as a married couple.

Another other couple in the suit, Karen Archer and Kate Call, were legally married in Iowa but joined the suit because Utah did not recognize their marriage. There are two other couples who preferred not to be in the spotlight. Both of these couples had applied for a marriage license in Salt Lake City but were denied.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs, Peggy A. Tomsic and James E. Magleby, are happy with the ruling, calling it an “historic and courageous” decision. They are confident that the ruling will stand and “provide legal precedent to support other plaintiffs’ constitutional challenges to similar state laws in the remaining states where there is marriage inequality.”

The Mormon church responds.

The LDS Church, as you would expect, are not pleased. Though they try to sound like they respect all Utahns, we know better. Remember Proposition 8 in California? Who do you think helped bankroll the campaign? Well, they lost that one and it looks like they will lose Amendment 3, too. LDS spokesman Cody Craynor told reporters today:

“The church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with respect. This ruling by a district court will work its way through the judicial process. We continue to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state constitution that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court.”

Except that a higher court — THE highest court, actually — has ruled on this once. They came down in support of marriage equality. So chew on that awhile, Mormons.

Meanwhile, celebrate the love, and the marriage equality.

Can we have a cheer for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker? He said that he would stay at City Hall “all night if has to” so that he can perform marriage ceremonies. What a guy! Here’s a picture of Mayor Becker officiating for one couple:

same sex couple

Mayor Becker officiates a marriage ceremony. Photo via @jsethanderson

This ruling is huge. If a state as steeped in religiosity as Utah can be held to the Constitution, then any state can. This comes just one day after neighboring New Mexico implementing marriage equality.

I am reminded of a Special Comment that Keith Olbermann gave about Prop 8, and on the broader subject of marriage equality, back in 2008. Whether you love him or loathe him, you must admit that these words get to the very heart of this issue:

“This is, corny as it seems, not about politics or religions or power or lobbying. It is about love. In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships, these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is already yours. They don’t want to deny you yours, they don’t want to take anything away from you – they want what you want, a chance to be a little less alone in the world. And your acceptance of their love turns out to be your own expression of love to your fellow human being.”

Those words are as true today as they were 5 years ago. The tide has turned and those who oppose marriage equality are on the wrong side of history. They are also on the wrong side of morality. Anyone who would deny another human being the comfort of a loving relationship should be ashamed. Love, and marriage equality, is for all of us.