Utah's on-again, off-again gay marriages: This is no way to make laws

Utah's on-again, off-again gay marriages: This is no way to make laws
Natalie Dicou, left, and Nicole Christensen are married by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker in the lobby of the Salt Lake County clerk's office in Salt Lake City on Dec. 20. (Kim Raff / Associated Press)

If you're a gay couple who got married in Utah recently, you aren't really married. Or, to put it another way: If you're a gay couple who got married in Utah recently, you are really married.

Confused? Me too.


Utah's bouncing marriage ball for gays has become a joke, except it's not funny. On Friday, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said that the federal government will recognize as married the 1,300 couples in Utah who wed after a federal District Court ruling on Dec. 20 cleared the way for such unions.

Which is the right call.

But the state of Utah doesn’t agree. It went to all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to get a stay of that ruling, then declared that it wouldn’t recognize the marriages until the legal mess was sorted out.

So now those couples, for tax purposes at least, are married on their federal returns but not on their state returns. Which must make H&R Block very happy.

Honestly, though, I'm having just a little trouble tracking the issues here. So, some questions:

First, for Utah: The governor's chief of staff said his boss believes same-sex marriage is a states' rights issue, for each state to decide. The governor has an "obligation to defend the [state] constitution as far as the process will take him."

Seriously? Marriage is a states' rights issue? I thought we had settled that when the Supreme Court struck down laws against interracial marriage.

I mean, I'm married (to a beautiful woman; sorry, honey, I don't tell you that often enough — and oh, can I watch football all weekend?) but I never think to check if I'm still married when I drive to Arizona or Utah or wherever. I know that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but I didn't know that applied so, well, legally to marriage. This could give a whole new slant to road trips, though.

So sorry, Utah, but I think you should take the idea that marriage is something the states decide and go jump in the Great Salt Lake.

Now, a question for you, Mr. Holder: Can you really just weigh in and say the Utah marriages are OK in the federal government’s eyes? As my colleague Mike McGough pointed out recently, the Supreme Court hasn’t actually, you know, ruled on gay marriage. Sure, it struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. And it voided California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage, but in a canny way that avoided actually deciding the merits of the case.

Now, Mr. Holder, you are saying that Utah's gay marriages are OK. But the Supreme Court hasn't said they are OK. The Supreme Court hasn't said any gay marriages anywhere are OK. So are you upholding the law, or making the law?

In the end, gay marriage isn't going away. Certainly, there are "facts on the ground" being created, with such unions being recognized in 17 states.

So it's silly for the Supreme Court to sit back and pretend it's OK to let the states decide this issue. Marriage isn't a states' rights issue. It's a human rights issue, a civil rights issue.

And the United States needs one law on it. Now.


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