WASHINGTON – Utah officials appear determined to undermine a judge’s wish to see same sex marriages legalized in the state. On Dec. 20, 2013, Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled that Utah’s ban on same sex unions was unconstitutional, and he became a hero to those seeking to marry their same sex partner. Utah’s leaders, however, are aghast at the move, saying that Shelby has created chaos as hundreds of lesbians and gay men move to marry. Shelby has refused to stay his own decision while the matter sits before the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
Now, Utah’s officials have asked the Supreme Court for a stay on further unions, and while there are questions about why it took them so long to file their appeal, the matter now sits in front of the court. They have drawn support from previous cases, such as United States v. Windsor, where Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the rules governing who should and should not marry under the Defense of Marriage Act was a matter for individual states to determine.
The state’s initial ban on same sex marriage was voter-approved, with 66 percent of the electorate agreeing that same sex marriage should be banned. When Justice Kennedy wrote his decision, he also expressed some concern about the effect a ban on gay marriage would have on children from such unions.
Utah officials are focused on undoing the perceived chaos that Judge Shelby’s decision has caused, though. According to reports, there have been hundreds of couples who have come to get married since then, and Utah officials continue to raise the red flag, concerned that these unions will have to be unwound should Judge Shelby’s decision be overturned.
The filing initially sat with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who oversees the 10th Circuit. However, she referred the matter to the entire court, and it issued a stay on further unions until a decision was made. While it is certain that the decision has left Utah officials jubilant about the delay, what remains unclear is the hundreds of marriages that hang in the balance.
It remains to be seen whether or not the decision to ban gay marriage will go against the 14th Amendment – the amendment that guarantees equal protection under the law to all citizens of the country. This is an argument that has been ongoing since the Proposition 8 controversy of a few years ago. That debate is still not settled, and legal pundits everywhere are wondering whether the Supreme Court will ultimately determine whether or not there’s a rational basis for Prop 8. If it fails under legal scrutiny, it could be deemed unconstitutional. The same situation exists for the Utah matter.
What is clear is that hundreds of families that have been effectively legalized continue to hold their collective breath, as many more before them have done, while lawyers decide whether they constitute a legal partnership or family. Decisions such as these will doubtless continue to change the legal landscape for years to come.
By Christina St-Jean