Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dignity: Marriage Equality Comes to Utah

On this snowy morning, six of my children are either still sleeping in their bedrooms in our home or are already downstairs watching television.* Christmas music is playing in the background. My 19-year-old daughter is in the kitchen making waffles. Mark is sitting next to me, writing in his journal. Others of my children are not currently here, but will be on Monday as nine of the children, my son-in-law and my granddaughter sit down to dinner with Mark and me.

We are a family. My partner, Mark, and I love each other. We, together, love our children, who are legally "mine" and my former wife's, but are also morally Mark's. Why? Because he loves them and they love him.

Gradually, over the past three years, I have come to feel more confident about being open about my sexual identity, about who I am. And during the past two years, I have come to the point that I no longer hesitate to publicly refer to Mark as my partner, e.g., when I'm in stores, restaurants, etc. I have grown more comfortable in quietly asserting and carrying my dignity as a gay man in a committed relationship.

But today, I feel different. In my home state, a federal judge has just ruled that our family, and Mark and I's relationship, is legally entitled to the same dignity and respect as those of heterosexual couples. Today, I feel validated as a gay man in my own community. I feel that, as it has so many times in American history, the federal judiciary has stepped in to confront a state that seeks to deny its citizens the rights that are their due. That a power greater than ignorance, bigotry and religious-based intolerance has stepped in to right what was wrong. 

And I'm grateful.

* Photo by Katrina Barker Anderson Photography


Here are some quotes from Judge Robert Shelby's ruling that resonated with me:

“[T]he 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 …”

"The Constitution guarantees that all citizens have certain fundamental rights. These rights vest in every person over whom the Constitution has authority and, because they are so important, an individual’s fundamental rights 'may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.' W. Va. State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 638 (1943) ..." 

“A person’s choices about marriage implicate the heart of the right to liberty that is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment … The effect of Amendment 3 is therefore that it denies gay and lesbian citizens of Utah the ability to exercise one of their constitutionally protected rights. The State’s prohibition of the Plaintiffs’ right to choose a same-sex marriage partner renders their fundamental right to marry as meaningless as if the State recognized the Plaintiffs’ right to bear arms but not their right to buy bullets ...”

“[H]owever persuasive the ability to procreate might be in the context of a particular religious perspective, it is not a defining characteristic of conjugal relationships from a legal and constitutional point of view. The State’s position demeans the dignity not just of same-sex couples, but of the many opposite- sex couples who are unable to reproduce or who choose not to have children ...”

“Both same-sex and opposite-sex marriage are therefore simply manifestations of one right—the right to marry—applied to people with different sexual identities. While it was assumed until recently that a person could only share an intimate emotional bond and develop a family with a person of the opposite sex, the realization that this assumption is false does not change the underlying right. It merely changes the result when the court applies that right to the facts before it. Applying that right to these Plaintiffs, the court finds that the Constitution protects their right to marry a person of the same sex to the same degree that the Constitution protects the right of heterosexual individuals to marry a person of the opposite sex ...”


"In 1966, attorneys for the State of Virginia made the following arguments to the Supreme Court in support of Virginia’s law prohibiting interracial marriage: (1) “The Virginia statutes here under attack reflects [sic] a policy which has obtained in this Commonwealth for over two centuries and which still obtains in seventeen states”; (2) “Inasmuch as we have already noted the higher rate of divorce among the intermarried, is it not proper to ask, ‘Shall we then add to the number of children who become the victims of their intermarried parents?’”; (3) “[I]ntermarriage constitutes a threat to society”; and (4) “[U]nder the Constitution the regulation and control of marital and family relationships are reserved to the States.” Brief for Respondents at 47-52, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), 1967 WL 113931. These contentions are almost identical to the assertions made by the State of Utah in support of Utah’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. For the reasons discussed above, the court finds these arguments as unpersuasive as the Supreme Court found them fifty years ago. Anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia and elsewhere were designed to, and did, deprive a targeted minority of the full measure of human dignity and liberty by denying them the freedom to marry the partner of their choice. Utah’s Amendment 3 achieves the same result.

“Rather than protecting or supporting the families of opposite-sex couples, Amendment 3 perpetuates inequality by holding that the families and relationships of same-sex couples are not now, nor ever will be, worthy of recognition. Amendment 3 does not thereby elevate the status of opposite-sex marriage; it merely demeans the dignity of same-sex couples. And while the State cites an interest in protecting traditional marriage, it protects that interest by denying one of the most traditional aspects of marriage to thousands of its citizens: the right to form a family that is strengthened by a partnership based on love, intimacy, and shared responsibilities. The Plaintiffs’ desire to publicly declare their vows of commitment and support to each other is a testament to the strength of marriage in society, not a sign that, by opening its doors to all individuals, it is in danger of collapse.

“The State of Utah has provided no evidence that opposite-sex marriage will be affected in any way by same-sex marriage. 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. Moreover, the Constitution protects the Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights, which include the right to marry and the right to have that marriage recognized by their government. These rights would be meaningless if the Constitution did not also prevent the government from interfering with the intensely personal choices an individual makes when that person decides to make a solemn commitment to another human being. The Constitution therefore protects the choice of one’s partner for all citizens, regardless of their sexual identity.”

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