SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes issued an official statement Tuesday upon submitting his opening brief to the U.S. Court of Appeal for the 10th Circuit in the matter of Kitchen vs. Herbert, the now highly publicized case challenging the state’s definition of marriage. Reyes’ statement follows:
The Utah Attorney General’s Office is dedicated to upholding the laws of the people. Although this particular issue is highly charged, and understandably so, we reiterate our commitment to Utah citizens to defend all Utah laws. Our office’s involvement is not driven by political motives, but rather our sense of duty. The team of attorneys and staff who have worked to defend Utah’s Constitutional Amendment 3 have varied personal beliefs on same-sex marriage, but respect their obligation to defend Utah law
The brief submitted on Feb 3, 2014 clarifies why the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit should uphold the decision of Utah’s citizens to retain the marriage definition that has been in place since the State’s inception.
The legal question at issue is not the fundamental right of same-sex couples to enter into exclusive and permanent relationships, raise children, or bequeath property at their death. Utah law already gives those rights. The constitutional question is whether it is reasonable for Utah’s citizens to believe that a child benefits most from being raised by his or her biological mother and father in a permanent relationship, and that such relationships should therefore be encouraged through recognition as marriages.
This issue is a highly emotional one for Utah citizens and deserves the best arguments and representation on both sides. Although the United States Supreme Court held in the Windsor case that states have the authority under the federal Constitution to abandon the traditional man-woman definition of marriage and to redefine it in another manner, it did not expressly answer the question of whether states have the authority to retain the traditional definition of marriage.
The State of Utah firmly believes the definition of marriage adopted by 66 percent of Utah citizens through popular vote is legal not only under the Utah Constitution, but also the United States Constitution. It is the duty of the Attorney General to defend the validity of the state constitution, particularly a provision recently enacted by an overwhelming majority of the state’s citizens.
The issues before the appellate court in Kitchen vs. Herbert stem from a Dec. 20, 2013, ruling issued by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby finding Utah’s marriage statute unconstitutional as to that part known as Amendment 3 which has defined marriage in Utah as consisting only between a man and a woman and affirmatively denying recognition of any other domestic union.
Shelby subsequently denied the state’s motion for emergency stay of the decision pending appeal, the state then appealed to the 10th Circuit to no avail. On Christmas Eve, the 10th Circuit upheld Shelby’s rulings, denied the request for stay, and ordered the appeal proceed on an expedited basis.
The state then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a stay of the decisions pending its appeal. The request went to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who receives and reviews appeals of 10th Circuit Court rulings. Sotomayor referred the request to the Supreme Court as a whole and the Supreme Court approved the stay in a brief decision that granted an emergency halt to same-sex marriages in Utah pending the appellate process.
From the time of Shelby’s first ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court’s order stopping same-sex marriages in Utah pending appeal, hundreds of marriages took place leaving those persons in a kind of limbo as to their legal status under various state and federal statutes.
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