Court sets schedule for Amendment 3 arguments

SALT LAKE CITY – The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has announced it will take oral arguments on April 10 for and against Utah’s Amendment 3, the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The court, based in Denver, announced its argument schedule on its website Wednesday. The case, Kitchen vs. Herbert, challenges Utah’s Amendment 3 as unconstitutional. On Dec. 20, federal district Judge Robert Shelby struck down Amendment 3 as violating the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Following Shelby’s ruling, over 1,300 same-sex couples were married across the state.

Initial attempts to have a stay put on the ruling pending the state’s appeal were unsuccessful until the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay on Jan. 6. The stay put a halt on the issuance of marriage certificates to same-sex couples in the state pending the outcome of an appeal to the court.

While the state government currently does not recognize the same-sex marriages conducted between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6, the federal government announced Jan. 10 that it would recognize the marriages and extend to them the same benefits heterosexual married couples enjoy. Five days later the Utah State Tax Commission said it would allow same-sex couples to file joint tax returns.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has vowed to fight for Amendment 3. To aid in Utah’s side of the case, the attorney general’s office issued a request for proposal for outside counsel. The attorney general’s office announced Jan. 16 that three attorneys had been chosen for the job. They are:

  • Gene C. Schaerr has argued many cases concerning federal issues and has an 80 percent win rate in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and a 75 percent win rate for dozens of federal appeals that he has argued over the past five years, according to a statement from the attorney general’s office.
  • John Bursch is a former solicitor general of Michigan and current partner at Warner Norcross & Judd. He has personal experience arguing five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Monte Neil, of Stewart Taylor & Morris, is a former clerk for Chief Justice Warren E. Burger of the United States Supreme Court. He also assisted the prosecution of Utah’s application for a stay to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Kitchen vs. Herbert case.

Collectively, the attorneys have capped their fees at $300,000; Schaerr at $200,000 and Bursch and Neil at $50,000 each.

While the state government maintains its position to defend Amendment 3, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the state for not recognizing the same-sex marriages that have already taken place.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert told reporters in a news conference held Jan. 23 that he would defend Amendment 3, calling it the “will of the people,” as it was a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution in 2004. However, he also said he was open to discussion on issues related to civil unions and job and housing discrimination.

Related to housing and employment discrimination against the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals, state Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said he will be reintroducing a bill addressing the matter in the 2014 session of the Utah Legislature. This year’s legislative session began Monday.

Update: Urquhart’s anti-discrimination  has been shelved for the time being due to Utah’s current pending court battle over Amendment 3.

Ed. Note: The original date reported for  arguments in the Amendment 3 case was in error and has corrected.

Related links:

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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