2013 pretty much turned out to be “The Year of the Gay” in many ways. We saw the death of Prop. 8, the crippling of DOMA, and a whole lot of dominos fall in terms of states allowing same-sex marriage. One such domino that proved to be an extremely sweet cherry on top of a fantastic year was Utah. Let’s face it, the Mormon church has a pretty shitty reputation when it comes to its acceptance of LGBT people. After all, they did have a pretty big role to play with the whole financial backing of Prop. 8. But one day, out of the blue, Mormon-land itself found itself the home of a crap ton of gay weddings, after a federal judge issued a ruling that declared the state’s voter-enacted same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Victory is ours once again, right? Especially since, after the state’s legislative and executive branches tried to appeal the decision and have a stay put in place, they were turned down by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Not so fast. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has now put a stay in place, effectively putting a halt to same-sex marriages in Utah. Worse yet, the fates of over 1000 newly-married same-sex couples are now uncertain, since it’s not exactly clear right now what sort of legal stance these marriages have. As of now, Utah’s governor has stated that the state will not recognize these newly formed same-sex unions, and that they will continue to do so until the stay has been lifted. So does that mean that the game is over? Are Utah’s same-sex couples dead in the water? Is this a step back for the otherwise-forward march of equality…spurred by the very same Supreme Court that struck down DOMA and Prop. 8? Not necessarily…
A stay is not the same thing as an outright ban on same-sex marriage. All it means is that the court is effectively putting a stopper on the entire situation. Now while the Supreme Court has not announced yet whether they will even hear this case, they handed down this stay relatively quickly and also unanimously, which means that even the justices who voted in support of marriage equality support this stay. According to legal experts who are far smarter than I, this can actually be seen as a good thing. Mainly, this is a very good sign that the Supreme Court does plan to hear this case, which means that it could potentially end up with a result that reaches beyond Utah’s borders.
This is actually somewhat similar to what happened during the Prop. 8 case. The voters (arguably) voted for Prop. 8. Then a federal judge declared it unconstitutional. But instead of having same-sex marriages begin again immediately, the higher courts put a stay in place until the case was decided on by higher courts. Like I said, a stay is just a stopper. If, during the years it took to decide the Prop. 8 case, they had allowed same-sex couples to get married, all it would do is potentially alienate even more “married” couples had the courts decided in favor of Prop. 8. However, since the stay was put in place, all that it meant was that same-sex couples in California had to wait for a while until their right to marriage was ultimately confirmed.
So yeah, don’t get terribly worked up about what’s going on in Utah. Sure, it stinks that thousands of same-sex couples are stuck in a sort of limbo for the time being. But like I said, experts are saying that this is a good sign that SCOTUS is going to issue a decision on this case. Now think about…if the court does issue a decision in the Utah case (which isn’t a guarantee yet)…what is the likelihood that they would decide in our favor on two separate cases last year to then turn around and change their minds on another case? Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the opinion on DOMA, has already made it clear that such laws do nothing but discriminate against same-sex couples and their families. So yeah, definitely keep your eyes to the headlines for more developments about the Utah same sex marriage controversy.