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Marriage Equality Comes to Utah!


This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2014 Fall Newsletter >>

Photos by Gallivan Photography. Top: Marriage Celebration Rally at Library Square, SLC, on October 6. Bottom: Karen McCreary, ACLU of Utah Executive Director, declares, “Today, more than ever, I am proud to be a Utahn!”

The freedom to marry for all people finally came to Utah on October 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court denied review in all of the marriage equality cases before it. As a result of that action, same-sex couples in Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma and Utah will now be able to marry the partners they love. This was a day of great celebration, not only in the 5 states with pending cases, but across the country, as the day’s decision brought the number of states with the freedom to marry to 30.

Karen-marriage-rallyMarriage equality was a hard fought goal in Utah. In the Utah marriage equality case, Kitchen v. Herbert, the plaintiffs challenged Utah’s Constitutional Amendment 3, which banned same sex couples from marriage. In support of the Kitchen plaintiffs, the ACLU of Utah filed a “friend of the court” brief with the district and appellate courts arguing that heightened level of scrutiny should apply to state laws that discriminate against LGBT people.

When the federal court sided with the Kitchen plaintiffs and struck down Amendment 3 on December 20, 2013, a wave of people in Utah who had been waiting for marriage equality to come was unleashed. Over 1,000 same-sex couples were legally married around the state before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in early January 2014 permitting Utah to stop granting licenses to same sex couples.

Soon after the Supreme Court’s stay, Governor Herbert announced that the State would place recognition of Utah marriages between same sex couples indefinitely “on hold.” Within weeks of that announcement, ACLU of Utah, along with the ACLU’s LGBT and AIDS project and cooperating attorneys from Strindberg and Scholnick, filed a federal lawsuit, Evans v. Utah. In Evans, the four plaintiff couples asserted that Utah had no authority to place recognition of their valid marriages “on hold” and sought a court order requiring that State recognize and honor all marriages of same sex couples.

On May 19, 2014, the federal court in Evans agreed with the plaintiffs and issued a preliminary order requiring the State to recognize all marriages of same-sex couples who were legally married in Utah. Soon after, the State appealed.

On June 25, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its historic ruling in Kitchen, becoming the first federal appeals court to strike down a state marriage ban. Soon after, the Tenth Circuit also refused to put on hold the lower court’s order in Evans requiring Utah to honor Utah marriages between same sex couples. Unfortunately, in both Kitchen and Evans, the State was ultimately able to obtain a stay on the orders, leaving all of the parties to wait anxiously.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the State’s appeal of the Tenth Circuit’s decision in Kitchen on October 6, 2014 ended the suspense. As a practical effect of that refusal, the Tenth Circuit’s ruling that Utah’s ban on marriage between same sex couples violates the fundamental right to marriage under the constitution becomes controlling law in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. While the question in Evans is a legally separate one, the State has publicly stated that based on Kitchen, the State intends to recognize all marriages between same sex couples in Utah, even those performed in December and January.

While the legal cases were winding through the courts, the ACLU of Utah joined our advocacy partners and community members in founding Utah Unites for Marriage to help prepare public sentiment for the inevitable outcome of marriage equality. Engaging in a massive public education campaign, this coalition provided a wonderful way to share the stories of loving and committed same-sex couples and their families and friends with other Utahns across the state.

The ACLU of Utah has joined our partners and community in celebrating this historic achievement and are thrilled that full marriage equality is finally a reality in Utah and across most of the country. We will all keep up the fight until marriage equality is a reality for everyone in the nation.

For more information about the work of the ACLU of Utah in protecting the rights of all LGBTQ people in Utah, please visit www.acluutah.org/lgbtq-equality

Many more wonderful photos from Gallivan Photography of the Marriage Celebration Rally at Library Square, SLC, on October 6, can be found on Equality Utah’s Facebook page >>

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