The debate around marriage equality in Utah has been a longstanding discussion and it appears that the fight isn’t over this legislative session.
From the Constitutional Amendment 3 in 2004, to the subsequent Common Ground Initiative in 2008 and the overturning of Amendment 3 through Kitchen v. Herbert in 2014, LGBT Utahns have had nothing but uncertainty and ambivalence from their state government.
With marriage equality being the law of the land, conservatives in the legislature are honing in on protections for those who would disagree with the recent Supreme Court ruling that opted to leave the lower courts ruling in Kitchen in tact. Leading the charge is Representative Jake Anderegg (Republican – Lehi) by sponsoring HB 66 – Marriage Modifications.
Anderegg’s bill establishes protections for secular government officials such as county clerks and judges who do not wish to solemnize a marriage that goes against their religious beliefs. While the bill language does not specify which types of marriages a government official can opt out of, the bill is clearly targeted at the LGBT community, as this is the only major marriage issue to have changed in the state in recent years.
The bill, however, could bring the state out of compliance with federal law.
Under the State Actor Doctrine, it is against Federal law to deny marriage between interracial couples by government officials with marriage responsibilities. In 2009, a Louisiana interracial couple request to marry was refused by a Justice of the Peace based on his religious and personal beliefs. While there was no court case in the matter, had the state had anti-miscegenation protection laws in place or the Justice of the Peace not resigned, a long, drawn out court battle would have ensued, with Louisiana most likely being at the losing end of the battle.
It can be argued that state actors have a duty and responsibility to perform marriages regardless of the sexual orientation and gender of two individuals because of this and other cases of federal precedence. Turning Anderegg’s bill into law puts the state of Utah in defiance against the Supreme Court’s Kitchen ruling, which, in turn, will churn up another expensive, symbolic court case that the state will most likely lose in the federal level.
Anderegg’s bill does protect private citizens who perform marriages, such as clergy. This is somewhat understandable, but it begs the question: who seeks out a religious marriage from a religious organization that disagrees with their lifestyle? Furthermore, Jefferson’s original concept of the separation of church and state, along with the First Amendment to the Constitution, currently protect churches from performing such marriages against their will.
Whether president or clerk, a person’s beliefs is their own and they are free to hate, discriminate, or disagree with other people’s lifestyle on their own private basis. However, once they throw their hat into the public ring, they represent everyone, and they swear an oath to protect, defend, and enforce the law – even to those they disagree with. Denying marriage is discrimination and once again and the protections set forth in HB 66 would create a second class of citizens.
Finally, imagine a post-HB 66 Utah where county clerks running to fill the office place their number one issue as whether or not they will deny marriage licenses to homosexuals. Is that the kind of election we want to have? Is that the image we want to portray? Is that fair to those who have a legal right to marry? Anderegg’s bill opens multiple cans of worms, and it is best to let the bill die.
To contact Representative Anderegg, click here or call 801-901-3580.
|Impact on Average Utahn||0-1-2-3-4-5|
|Need for Legislation||0-1-2-3-4-5|