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Court Says Utah Ban On Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional

Liberty Reporter: The 2014 Winter Newsletter >>

The ACLU and ACLU of Utah became involved in the emotional rollercoaster of a lawsuit, Kitchen v. Herbert, on October 17, 2013 when we submitted a “friend of the court” brief in support of the plaintiffs. In Kitchen v. Herbert, plaintiffs challenge Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. The challenge to the Utah ban was brought by three Utah couples. These couples are Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity; Karen Archer and Kate Call; and Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge and were represented by the law firm of Magleby & Greenwood. These couples were either married in Utah or were legally married somewhere else and wanted their home state to recognize their marriage.

In the brief written by the ACLU and ACLU of Utah, we argued that the Kitchen v. Herbert lawsuit called for a heightened level of scrutiny to be used when examining laws that discriminate against same-sex couples and their families. We argued that sexual orientation is a quasi-suspect classification that calls for scrutiny higher than rational-basis. Rational-basis is the lowest level of scrutiny that only requires a law to be reasonably related to serving a legitimate government interest.

On December 20th 2013, a federal court declared that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The federal court decided that the ban based on sexual identity discrimination, did not pass the rational-basis test and did not require the use of a heightened level of scrutiny. The court found that Utah’s prohibition of same-sex marriage violated the plaintiffs’ rights to equal protection and due process under the 14th Amendment. In addition, the court said that the ban perpetuates inequality by holding that same-sex couples are not and will not be worthy of recognition.

Utah attempted to offer several interests as their legitimate government interests that would allow them to deny same-sex couples’ rights. One interest was preserving the traditional definition of marriage. However, the court said that tradition alone does not make a rational basis for law. The court did not accept this or the other speculations and fears of the State of Utah, as sufficient to deny fundamental rights.

On January 4, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a request from Utah’s attorney general to temporarily halt marriages for same-sex couples; this is because the state is appealing the federal court’s ruling on the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. In a move that far out stepped its authority, the state later announced that it placed recognition of marriages that took place after a federal court struck down the state ban and before the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted marriages, on hold indefinitely.

Find out more about this case Kitchen v Herbert >>