Photo: REX USA/Patsy Lynch.
UPDATE: Good news for the 1,300 same-sex couples who were married during the brief period when a ban on the controversial practice was ruled constitutional — the Federal Justice Department released a statement explicitly stating it would protect those unions, even if Utah would not. Such couples, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video statement, will still receive all federal marriage benefits including health insurance for federal employees, federal tax benefits, estate benefits, and immigration privileges. "These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds,” said the Attorney General.
Clearly, this puts to rest some of the worries these couples must have had. It's also somewhat of a direct challenge to Utah state officials pushing to reinstitute a ban on same-sex marriage and effectively annul any such marriages performed in the last few months. Plus, it's a strong indicator that, while the Obama administration is not outright pushing for a federal same-sex marriage law, it is certainly putting the country on a path toward it by protecting the institution in any way it can. By coming into direct conflict with state law in this way, Holder and the White House may or may not be moving us all toward a final constitutional showdown over the issue in the coming years.
Here we go again. Just over two weeks after a federal-court judge in Denver declared Utah's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, the Supreme Court called for a halt on new unions — at least until a verdict is reached on the appeal. It's okay if you're a little confused (and peeved).
As you might remember, on December 20, Judge Robert J. Shelby of federal district court struck down Utah's statewide ban on same-sex marriage and refused to grant a stay of appeal, which meant an almost immediate flood of gay and lesbian couples tying the knot. It was all quite notable not only because Utah is a blood-red conservative state with a high population of orthodox Mormons, but because that very same Mormon base supplied some of the money and manpower that fueled the campaign for California's Proposition 8 — a same-sex marriage ban that was struck down by another federal court in 2010 (a decision that was confirmed on appeal to the Supreme Court this summer).
The basis for the stay holding Judge Shelby's ruling until the state's appeal runs its course is unclear, though Utah asked for it to "minimize the enormous disruption to the state and its citizens of potentially having to ‘unwind’ thousands of same-sex marriages.” Obviously, Utah officials not only want to bring the ban back, but they also intend to "unwind" the marriages that have already occurred after Judge Shelby's ruling. As has been said about many things, the state's position is surprising but not at all shocking.
In the end, it's really hard to say what we can expect out of this. After all, the Supreme Court did uphold a ruling against Prop. 8 and tossed DOMA. And, yet, this must have a chilling effect not only on supporters of same-sex marriage in Utah, but also on those who married legally after the December 20 ruling. Basically, there's a lot up in the air and a lot to worry both sides of the debate. (The New York Times)