One step forward, one step back for marriage equality in US

In a surprising twist, Utah became one of the growing number of states in which same-sex marriage is not outright banned, but only after a federal district judge ruled on Dec. 20 that the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Utah, a state that sharply skews to the right (72 percent of Utah voters cast their ballots for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election — the highest percentage of any state), did not take kindly to a judge making such a decision, a judge who was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama, no less.

The U.S. Supreme Court intervened to stay the licensing of same-sex couples on Jan. 6 while legal action continues in the appeals court. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Jan. 10 that the marriages performed before the stay would still be recognized as valid in the eyes of federal law, even though the state of Utah would not recognize them.

The editorial board of the Deseret News, Utah’s oldest newspaper, called the district judge’s decision an act of “judicial tyranny.”

However, despite the supposed tyrannical nature of Judge Robert Shelby’s decision, crowds of marriage equality supporters visited the Utah State Capitol on Jan. 10, rallying behind Judge Shelby and asking Gov. Gary Herbert, R-Utah, to let the ruling stand.

In Oklahoma, notably conservative, marriage equality advances by the hour. A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The ban passed by popular vote in 2004.

In conservative states such as Utah, supporting the rights of same-sex couples is not necessarily the most popular cause, so sometimes those supporters retreat from the realm of electoral politics and bring their case to the legal sphere. This is what led Edith Windsor to sue the federal government for enforcing provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (also dubbed the “Endangered Republican Candidates Act” by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.).

Windsor’s efforts were successful and in June of last year, the Supreme Court struck down DOMA in U.S. v. Windsor.

In the wake of this decision, as well as the verdict in Utah, couples are challenging the roadblocks to marriage equality that remain on the books in states across the country, including in Arizona.

On Jan. 6, four Arizona couples filed a class-action lawsuit challenging Arizona’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which was added when Arizona voters approved Proposition 102 in 2008.

According to The Arizona Republic, this case is one of 25 similar cases asking for a definitive ruling on same-sex marriage bans at the state level.

The Supreme Court will absolutely take up the issue of marriage equality again, regardless of whether it does so in the current term. When it does, even money is on a favorable ruling for marriage equality advocates, a 5-to-4 decision among the nine Supreme Court justices, split along ideological lines.

Court battles over hot-button social issues are nothing new, and even Arizona, known for its more conservative tendencies, has a role to play in the continued fight for the ability of couples to get married, regardless of their sexual orientation.

When the Court finally hands down such a ruling, whether that’s in the next year or the next five years, it certainly won’t mean the issues facing the LGBTQ community are a thing of the past. Instead, such a ruling will be a promising start in a nation that only a decade ago allowed pernicious and arbitrary discrimination to go unchecked.

 

 

Reach the columnist at skthoma4@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @savannahkthomas