OPINION – The rejoicing among those who celebrated yesterday’s stay of a federal court ruling on same-sex marriage will be short-lived.
The ruling by United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor isn’t a condemnation of same-sex marriage by any means.
It also doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court believes that a Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights was wrong.
What it means is that the issue, which has been something that not only Utah officials have been wrestling with, is of a scope that a fuller decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, is required. That process begins on Jan. 27 and is to be completed by Feb. 25.
So, despite all the comments to the contrary, this is not the final word on same-sex marriage and those who have been hailing the decision have no reason to crow at this point just because they have, for the time being, been halted.
The approximately 900 same-sex marriages that have taken place in Utah since Shelby’s ruling, will stand, with those couples receiving full partnership rights and benefits.
There is nothing remarkable about Sotomayor’s decision, other than the timeframe she laid down for the appeal process, which, when it comes to constitutional law, usually moves at glacier-like speed.
The interesting point here is that the decision was rendered with no explanation. The likelihood that this matter will go before the full U.S. Supreme Court any time soon is unlikely. A case would have to be accepted this month to be adjudicated by the end of the court’s term in June, so we will have to live with whatever decision is handed down by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for quite some time.
The legal process is not often friendly nor always totally understandable. There are nuances upon nuances that can be terribly confusing to even the keenest observers, so much so that I would always instruct my reporters, back in the days when I was an editor, to never be surprised by a decision rendered by the courts.
My case in point, of course, was the O.J. Simpson murder trial where all the evidence pointed at a guilty verdict, but Simpson walked because the jury wasn’t convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he killed his wife and her friend. That Simpson lost a subsequent civil case, where the level of proof is at a lower standard, was a no-brainer.
It’s our justice system and, despite all of the complaints that crop up on either side of a decision, it usually works pretty well.
So, it is understandable that when an issue as grave as same-sex marriage hits the docket, justices proceed with prudence.
That doesn’t mean I agree with Sotomayor’s decision, it just means that so many lives will be impacted by the final ruling here, the courts must ensure that they have an unshakeable foundation anchoring their final decisions.
There have also been some major mistakes made in this debate since Shelby handed down his ruling, primary amongst them was the assertion that because the people of Utah voted to ban same-sex marriage, it should be binding and that Shelby had no authority to overrule on such a matter.
The thing is, as any constitutionalist worth his salt will tell you, Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, otherwise known as the Supremacy Clause, is very clear in establishing that federal law and judgments supersede state law: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.” It’s this thing we refer to as a “system of checks and balances” to ensure fairness and a lack of exclusion or bigotry in the rules we live by.
The federal government can choose whether to flex its muscle or ignore violations of a federal statute at will, however, which is why Coloradoans can smoke marijuana without fear of arrest after voters there overwhelmingly approved recreational use of the herb. In this instance, I think the feds are studying the Colorado model to determine if it is possible to run a well-regulated marijuana trade and make it profitable in tax revenue. My guess is that if Colorado’s seed-to-smoke documentation and regulation proves successful – the state’s previous regulation of medicinal marijuana was lauded as the best in the Union – we will soon see the federal government lift its ridiculous prohibition of marijuana, if only as an economic move to reduce the deficit. It won’t be any too soon because Lord knows, we need some harmless diversion from the insanity of these times.
The bottom line is that same-sex marriage should not be judged on religious grounds or doctrine. It should be, where the law is concerned, based on human rights and civil liberties granted by the U.S. Constitution, which include freedom of speech, the right to privacy, the right to be free from unreasonable searches of your home, the right to a fair trial, the right to marry, and the right to vote.
It took some time for all of those rights to be granted, of course, because the law is a transient thing, changing with the times, needs, and advancement of our culture. If it wasn’t, we’d still have slavery, women would not be allowed to vote, and Jim Crow would be alive and well.
But, those things have all, thankfully, changed, just as I expect the ban on same-sex marriage in Utah to change.
All it takes is the realization that we cannot restrict the rights of others just because of their race, creed, or who they happen to fall in love with.
No bad days, for anybody.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
- Supreme Court halts same-sex marriages in Utah
- Utah appeals to U.S. Supreme Court to halt same-sex marriages
- Tenth Circuit denies Utah’s appeal for stay on same-sex marriage ruling
- Same-sex marriages take place as couples rush to county clerk’s office
- County issues first marriage licenses to same-sex couples
- Federal judge strikes down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban
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