The Utah state legislature recently unveiled a new bill aimed at safeguarding the rights of same-sex married couples by preventing the invalidation of their unions. Announced on Tuesday, this important legislation is being championed by Senator Derek Kitchen.
The recent leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Roe v. Wade has everyone alarmed.
In this draft, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the right to abortion is not in the Constitution, and therefore, its legalization could be overturned.
His arguments are worrisome because, as legal experts believe, they could be used to challenge rulings concerning LGBTQ rights, such as the right to marriage or access to government benefits for same-sex spouses, or even the right to same-sex sexual relationships.
On Tuesday, gay Democratic Senator Derek Kitchen from Salt Lake City announced his intention to introduce a bill in the Utah legislature that would codify same-sex marriage into state law.
The move is part of a national trend in response to fears that a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately strike down same-sex marriage.
“We know that there is great unpredictability when our protections and civil liberties are granted via opinion by unelected bodies,” Kitchen said at a press conference.
“We cannot control what the Supreme Court will do. But the state’s rights matter, and we can choose to make Utah a place for all families.
“This bill updates Utah code to make sure LGBTQ families are protected and that their marriages are protected.”
If the bill is passed, Utah will provide legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples living in the state. The bill would also codify same-sex marriage into state law, which would remove the ban on same-sex marriage that is still present in current Utah law.
Utah is part of the 30 states in the U.S. that have same-sex marriage bans on the books stating that marriage can only be a union between a man and a woman, and would thus make same-sex marriage illegal if the Supreme Court overturns the Obergefell decision.
“If we lose marriage equality at the federal level, through the Supreme Court, then it’s back to a state rights issue,” Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, told FOX 13 News. “There are so many states, including Utah, my home state of Ohio. Where if that would happen? Well, immediately those bans on same-sex marriage and recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages would and could go back into effect.”
He continued: “We need to protect the right to marry at the state level because we don’t know what will happen at the federal level. We need to protect the right to marry at the state level because we don’t know what will happen at the federal level from the Supreme Court. We deserve to be treated equally. We deserve to be part of ‘we the people...’ Think about this: allowing the most fundamental relationship of any person’s life to allow that relationship to disappear, simply by virtue of crossing a state border.”
Senator Kitchen is quite optimistic that his bill will succeed. He has not yet shared his strategy with the Senate GOP leadership, but he has discussed it with his Republican colleagues. Kitchen is confident that his measure will have sufficient support in the legislature.
“Utah is a family-friendly state,” he said. “We support families. We know how important it is to provide stable units for children to grow. We have already decided as a community that marriage equality is a value that we care about.”
It’s difficult to say what the future holds for same-sex marriage in Utah. On the one hand, polls show that support is nearly unanimous. However, conservatives in Utah have been increasingly vocal in their opposition to LGBTQ rights, especially transgender rights, and it remains to be seen whether this trend will continue. In either case, it’s clear that the fight for equality in Utah is far from over.
“We absolutely need to take seriously the impacts that beyond Roe v. Wade,“ Dr. Jennifer Plumb, Senator Kitchen’s opponent in the Senate District 2 Democratic primary, recently said. “Codifying gay marriage in Utah is something we obviously need to be doing. I’m worried about ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ the continued attacks on transgender youth, as well as the threats to reproductive justice that are coming.”
Though it has been a long and hard-fought battle, it is clear that the fight for marriage rights is far from over.
Photo credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News