Utah appeals same-sex marriage case to Supreme Court

Photo: U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: Todd Franson/Metro Weekly.

Photo: U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: Todd Franson/Metro Weekly.

The state of Utah formally appealed a case striking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban to the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, once again placing the issue of marriage equality before the nation’s highest court.

As expected, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court on behalf of the administration of Gov. Gary Hebert (R) requesting a review of Kitchen v. Herbert, the case striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Last month, Reyes announced he would appeal in order to “obtain clarity and resolution from the highest court.” In June the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to uphold a lower court’s ruling that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. On December 20 U.S District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby found Utah’s same-sex marriage ban in violation of the U.S. Constitution, leading more than 1,000 same-sex couples to marry before the U.S. Supreme Court interjected and halted marriages pending appeal. The appeals court heard oral arguments in the case on April 10. Last month, the 10th Circuit also upheld a lower court’s ruling finding Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

“My responsibility is to defend the State Constitution and its amendments as Utah citizens have enacted them,” Reyes said in a statement released after Monday’s filing. “We recognize this litigation has caused uncertainty and disruption and have accordingly tried to expedite its resolution as quickly as possible by filing our petition a full month-and-a-half before its September 23rd due date. Utah welcomes a speedy grant of the petition and a Supreme Court merits decision, as all Utah citizens will benefit when the Supreme Court provides clear finality on the important issue of state authority to define marriage.”

In the filing, the state of Utah argues that the court’s resolution of the question presented by the case — whether the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits a state from defining or recognizing marriage only as between a man as a woman — “can mark the end of marriage litigation in all respects.”

“[T]he advocates on both sides of Utah’s litigation are experienced and capable. And the harm in waiting is significant, regardless of which side prevails,” the petition states. “Either thousands of couples are being denied their constitutional right to marry, or millions of voters are being disenfranchised of their fundamental right to retain the definition of marriage that has existed since before the People ratified the United States Constitution. This Court should grant the petition and answer, once and for all, the important question presented.”

The filing comes as one of the defendants in the case challenging Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban is also expected to appeal to the Supreme Court. Last week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling finding Virginia law prohibiting same-sex marriage and recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Supreme Court has no obligation to take up the Utah case, and should they decline to do so the 10th Circuit’s ruling invalidating Utah’s same-sex marriage ban will stand. 

Following a year of legal wins for marriage equality since the Supreme Court’s sweeping June 2013 ruling in the Windsor case, striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as between a man and a woman, a flood of appellate court arguments on same-sex marriage bans are set to begin tomorrow. On Wednesday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will hear oral arguments in six cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to consider the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s and Indiana’s respective same-sex marriage bans on Aug. 26, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will consider Idaho’s and Nevada’s bans on Sept. 8. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet set a date for considering a case challenging Texas law prohibiting same-sex marriage.

Herbert v. Kitchen Supreme Court Petition

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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