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Friday, December 20, 2013

Courts - Utah federal district court judge declares Utah's constitutional and statutory prohibitions against same sex marriage unconstitutional

Here are some quotes from today's 53-page opinion by United States District Judge Robert J. Shelby [case via LegalTimes.com]:

The court agrees with Utah that regulation of marriage has traditionally been the province of the states, and remains so today. But any regulation adopted by a state, whether related to marriage or any other interest, must comply with the Constitution of the United States. The issue the court must address in this case is therefore not who should define marriage, but the narrow question of whether Utah’s current definition of marriage is permissible under the Constitution.

Few questions are as politically charged in the current climate. This observation is especially true where, as here, the state electorate has taken democratic action to participate in a popular referendum on this issue. It is only under exceptional circumstances that a court interferes with such action. But the legal issues presented in this lawsuit do not depend on whether Utah’s laws were the result of its legislature or a referendum, or whether the laws passed by the widest or smallest of margins. The question presented here depends instead on the Constitution itself, and on the interpretation of that document contained in binding precedent from the Supreme Court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Applying the law as it is required to do, the court holds that Utah’s prohibition on samesex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law. 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. * * *

The court hereby declares that Amendment 3 is unconstitutional because it denies the Plaintiffs their rights to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The court hereby enjoins the State from enforcing Sections 30-1-2 and 30-1-4.1 of the Utah Code and Article I, § 29 of the Utah Constitution to the extent these laws prohibit a person from marrying another person of the same sex.

See this story from Mark Joseph Stern of Slate.

Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog has a good analysis here. It begins:

Directly applying the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act to a state’s ban on same-sex marriage, a federal judge in Salt Lake City ruled Friday that Utah’s voter-approved state constitutional amendment violates the federal Constitution.

“The Constitution protects the choice of one’s partner for all citizens, regardless of their sexual identity,” U.S. District Judge Richard J. Shelby ruled in a fifty-three-page opinion. He was the second federal judge to nullify a ban imposed by a state’s voters at the ballot box; the first such ruling nullified California’s “Proposition 8″ — a ruling that the Supreme Court left intact in June but without a direct ruling on it.

If Judge Shelby’s ruling withstands an appeal, it would make Utah the eighteenth state where same-sex marriages are allowed, and the seventh in which equal marriage rights were established by a court ruling.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 20, 2013 06:35 PM
Posted to Courts in general