OPINION – One of the pearls I would always offer my reporters when I was an editor was “Never be surprised by a decision a court hands down.”
You can watch all the “Law & Order” reruns you like, but it will still not make you an expert on the law.
That’s why I had no idea how the U.S. Supreme Court would rule on the issue of same-sex marriages.
As we learned Monday, SCOTUS, that is, the nation’s Supreme Court, ruled on behalf of equality for all when it decided not to take on appeals filed by Virginia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and, of course, Utah, states that petitioned the court to uphold their bans on same-sex marriage.
This court has recently been unpredictable and a lot more political so I was halfway expecting the justices to hear the case and, eventually, hand down a ruling that it is up to the states to decide who can marry whom, which would have been an egregious violation of civil rights.
I am not a huge fan of the whole state’s rights concept anyway, particularly now when the laws between states are so contradictory. It is ridiculous that what is legal in one state is illegal in another. Since when should our rights be restricted by borders?
Usually, of course, the disparity of our laws is rooted in some religious influence, which is an affront to justice and an insult to the First Amendment, which protects us from religious persecution, regardless of whether it is a result of our beliefs or our opposition to a predominant strain of religion. And, make no mistake, this legal challenge to same-sex marriage was rooted in religion, not law, with a number of churches jeopardizing their tax-free status by supplying money, services, and people to fight the legalization of same-sex marriages, particularly in California where millions of dollars were raised and many “volunteers” gathered to try to strike down a law allowing people to marry regardless of sexual orientation.
Citing morality, they became vigorous defenders of what was termed “traditional marriage,” but what is moral about separating a group of people from their civil rights, whether it be for reasons of race, creed, or sexual orientation?
It’s really quite easy. If you don’t believe in same-sex marriage, choose a partner of the opposite sex. But, do not try to deprive a couple the right to live and love and make a commitment simply because it is two men or two women. There will be no harmful spillover effect, you won’t be “recruited” to join the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) lifestyle, and their marriages will have no impact on your day-to-day existence.
An old quote about the United States being “a nation of laws” was dusted off yesterday and spun in at least a dozen directions. Even Gov. Gary Herbert trotted it out during his press conference.
However, the best use of that term, which originated in ancient Greece, came from Supreme Court Justice John Marshall: “The government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men. It will certainly cease to deserve this high appellation if the laws furnish no remedy for the violation of a vested legal right.”
Marshall’s wise words came on the heels of the precedent-setting Marbury v. Madison decision in 1803, which clarified that the judicial branch of government – headed by the U.S. Supreme Court – is the final authority when it comes to Constitutional issues and rights.
The struggle for equality for the LGBT community is not over, however.
In Utah and 28 other states, you can still be fired from your job if you are gay. You can also be refused housing because of your sexual orientation in many parts of the state.
State Sen. Steve Urquhart has been trying for a couple of years now, to pass a bill in the Legislature that would remove such discrimination.
“The basic principal behind the bill is straight forward: We should all have an opportunity to earn a living and keep a roof over our heads,” he said during an interview with Utah Political Capitol earlier this year. “Gay and transgender people are good, hardworking people with families, just like everyone else.”
The bill was shot down in 2013 when the far-right segment of the Legislature said it would create “a special class for the LGBT community.”
“It just means you can’t fire a person because they are gay or because they are straight,” he said.
Punishment for such actions is a veritable slap on the wrist – a $500 fine – but it is a place to start.
Why is this bill necessary?
Because, according to Utah Political Capitol, a 2012 survey revealed that 43 percent of gay Utahns and 67 percent of transgender Utahns reported that they had experienced employment discrimination, meaning they had been fired or denied a position specifically because of their sexual orientation or gender identification.
Those are embarrassing numbers that won’t be fixed by Monday’s SCOTUS decision, numbers that are deeply etched in generations of homophobic bigotry that cannot and will not be erased just because now the law allows people of the same sex to marry.
What will happen next?
I can easily foresee that during the next Legislative session, a bill will be introduced to ban same-sex married partners from adopting children.
That bill, unfortunately, would gain more traction in the Legislature than Urquhart’s because of long-held, but misguided, stereotypical thinking.
I’m not always on the same page as Sen. Urquhart.
Our politics are usually miles – make that continents – apart.
But, we share common ground on this issue.
Yes, the Utah LGBT community has reason to celebrate.
But, there are still many more roads to travel on the path to true and complete equality.
No bad days!
- Community celebrates marriage equality at Vernon Worthen Park
- Governor says Utah will recognize same-sex marriage
- US Supreme Court denies hearing Utah’s petition on marriage statute
- High court may consider hearing Utah’s same-sex marriage case
- State files cert petition with Supreme Court in defense of marriage laws
- Supreme Court grants stay on same-sex marriage recognition
- Appeals court denies Utah’s request to stay recognition of same-sex marriages
- State leaders, others respond to court striking down Amendment 3
- Judge orders Utah to recognize same-sex marriages from 17-day window
- Big company names throw support behind same-sex marriage
- Perspectives: The greatest threat to marriage, loss of sanctity
- ON Kilter: The gay marriage debate is over
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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