The Details and Utah’s Response (Los Angeles): On Friday, December 20th, Robert J. Shelby, a U.S. District Court Judge, issued a ruling on District Court case Kitchen v. Herbert that sent shockwaves across the nation. Reactions varied on both sides of the typical spectrum with supporters of Marriage Equality celebrating—flooding social media with happy posts and supportive profile pictures—while hundreds of Utah same-sex couples raced to their respective county clerk’s offices to get their marriage licenses. Opponents gave their expected cries of judicial activism and oppression. Beyond the immediate ramifications of this decision for couples in Utah, the decision from Judge Shelby could have far reaching effects for the entire country.
In response to this ruling, there are two reactions from the State of Utah. The first is that the Utah state officials have declared intentions to request for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay on the case to keep more couples from marrying until the appeals process is completed. A request for a stay has already been denied multiple times by Judge Shelby and also by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Second, the Utah State Attorney General’s office has said it will seek an appeal of the ruling itself to the aforementioned 10th Circuit for the case itself. In the meantime, until the Supreme Court weighs in on a stay, couples will be allowed to continue marrying and some reluctant Utah counties—Cache county temporarily closing down their offices or Utah county flat out refusing to process same-sex marriage licenses—are being ordered by the State Attorney General to comply with the ruling for the time being.
10th Circuit and Beyond It’s important when dealing with legal proceedings to keep in mind the notion of scope. The case, Kitchen v. Herbert, is dealing with Amendment 3 of Utah’s state constitution and similar statutes dealing with Utah state law. Any victory will most likely only affect same-sex couples living in the State of Utah directly. However, as the case moves on to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, it starts to become more significant for same-sex couples in neighboring states. The 10th Circuit has jurisdiction over the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming, in addition to Utah. A victory on this level would establish legal precedent for any future cases brought against other state constitutional amendments in any state in the 10th Circuit’s jurisdiction—only one of which currently has marriage equality. Many following this issue on both sides are already predicting that this case will go to the United States Supreme Court. It is likely it could arrive at the same time as other state challenges like the case in Virginia that is currently being represented by Proposition 8 lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies and could be combined into a single case to be considered by the Supreme Court. Some feel like the court punted on the issue of state constitutional amendments that ban same-sex marriage with the Prop 8 case. These current state challenges could bring the issue to their doorstep once again, within a year or two of their previous decision. This case is unique as it presents Marriage Equality supporters not only the possibility of an unlikely victory (Seriously, who would have guessed Utah would be state #18?), but a way into states with solid constitutional amendments. The fear of many following these legal fights through legislatures, statewide referendums, and legal challenges, was that the ‘easy states’ were going to be gone soon and that the marriage equality fight would hit a wall. Such amendments would prevent state supreme courts like the ones in Iowa or, more recently, New Mexico from striking down anti-gay marriage laws. Amendments to state constitutions have to be repealed or shown to be incongruent with the United States Constitution. Utah’s case has demonstrated that this wall, like all the rest before, could come falling down, and faster than previously thought possible.
By: Trent Menssen