A federal judge struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban Friday in a decision that marks a drastic shift toward gay marriage in a conservative state where the Mormon church has long been against it.
The decision set off an immediate frenzy as the clerk in the state’s most populous county began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples while state officials took steps to appeal the ruling and halt the process.
Cheers erupted as the mayor of Salt Lake City led the state’s first gay wedding ceremony in an office building about three miles from the headquarters of the Mormon church. Dozens of other couples were lined up to get marriage licenses.
Deputy Salt Lake County Clerk Dahnelle Burton-Lee said the district attorney authorized her office to begin issuing the licenses but she couldn’t immediately say how many had been issued.
Just hours earlier, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby issued a 53-page ruling saying the constitutional amendment Utah voters approved in 2004 violates gay and lesbian couples’ rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Shelby said the state failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way.
“In the absence of such evidence, the State’s unsupported fears and speculations are insufficient to justify the State’s refusal to dignify the family relationships of its gay and lesbian citizens,” Shelby wrote.
The Utah ruling comes the same week New Mexico’s highest court legalized gay marriage after declaring it unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A new law passed in Hawaii last month now allows gay couples to marry there.
If the ruling stands, Utah would become the 18th state to allow gay marriages, said Jon Davidson, director of Lambda Legal, which pursues litigation on LGBT issues nationwide. That’s up from six before the U.S. Supreme Court last summer struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The District of Columbia also allows same-sex marriage.
“The momentum we are seeing is unprecedented in any human rights struggle,” Davidson said. “To have this fast a change in the law and in public opinion, is quite remarkable.”
Between this ruling and the one in New Mexico (more on that in a minute), I’d say equality opponents in Texas now truly have something to worry about. I still don’t think the Fifth Circuit will cooperate, but I’m less certain of that than I was two days ago. One reason for that is the way the judges in these cases made their rulings. For example, the Utah judge cited Justice Scalia’s dissent in the DOMA case in support of his ruling, and though the New Mexico case was decided in state court, the judge that wrote the opinion there clearly had one eye on SCOTUS.
The “responsible procreation” argument is utter bunk.
These days, conservatives shy away from arguing that gay people make bad parents, because they definitely, unquestionably, absolutely do not. Instead, the argument has subtly shifted to a new sophism: Marriage laws are meant to encourage “responsible procreation” by opposite-sex couples so that if the woman gets pregnant, the state won’t have an orphan on its hands. The implication, of course, is that gays play no part in this schema, and so it would be absurd to allow them into the marriage club.
Wrong, says Justice Edward L. Chávez, speaking for the court—in fact, New Mexico’s own marriage law makes no mention whatsoever of procreation, exposing the argument’s gesture toward tradition as the claptrap that it is. Instead, “the purpose of New Mexico marriage laws is to bring stability and order to the legal relationship of committed couples … [and] their children.” Plus, “fertility has never been a condition of marriage,” so heterosexual gay marriage opponents clearly aren’t even playing by their own rules. Finally, Chávez drives in the knife:
[W]e fail to see how forbidding same-gender marriages will result in the marriages of more opposite-gender couples for the purpose of procreating, or how authorizing same-gender marriages will result in the marriages of fewer opposite-gender couples for the purpose of procreating.
These points may seem obvious, but the “responsible procreation” argument has gained some ground since it made an appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court last March. Now a court has been fully briefed on the matter, and the verdict couldn’t be clearer: This argument is dead in the water.
The state of Utah made that “responsible procreation” argument as well, as I’m sure Texas will in February. But now there’s a lot more precedent for swatting down these hurtful, discriminatory laws down. That makes this upcoming hearing that much more important. To all the couples in Utah now getting married, congratulations and mazel tov! To everyone in Utah and elsewhere now freaking out that the end of civilization is nigh, relax. It totally isn’t, as you will soon see for yourself. It’s just more love and happiness and equality and justice, and last I checked those were all good things.