Same-sex marriage just hit a legal roadblock in Utah, but don’t expect it to last long.
The U.S. Supreme Court has halted the further issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in the state. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has announced that the state will not recognize the 1,300 licenses already issued while it pursues legal opposition.
Opponents of gay marriage are celebrating while the couples are left in limbo. All this is a temporary holding action at best. The march toward the equal right of all persons to legally marry is inexorable.
Historically and culturally, marriage has been used to symbolize all kinds of arrangements. Unions based only on a mutually acknowledged feeling of attachment between two heterosexual persons are relatively modern. Throughout human history, marriages were intended to control property rights, relations between tribes or royal alliances with the woman having no say, either before the official ceremony or after.
Marriage has not always involved only two persons. Ironically, it is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, that knows this better than any other American religion. Polygamy has been and still is legally and religiously sanctioned in much of the world.
In 21st-century America, the legal reality is that marriage is a contract that involves property, money, status in the community and sometimes children. The contract begins when a marriage license is filed with the civil authority and it ends when a divorce decree or a death certificate is filed. Under the law, marriage isn’t emotional and it isn’t spiritual. It is legal.
States control legal contracts, including marriage. Establishment of residence for filing for a license or a divorce, property rights and custody of children vary from state to state. What does not and cannot vary, however, is any individual state’s right to violate the U.S. Constitution.
Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal standing before the law cannot be denied based on color or gender. The interstate commerce clause means that one state cannot refuse to recognize contractual agreements made within another state.
On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Many of those laws predated American independence. Many who supported those laws thought interracial marriage violated God’s law.
Despite all the passion spent on this issue, blacks and whites can marry in Alabama, Virginia or Wisconsin, and their marriages are just as legitimate in Texas or Nebraska or Idaho. Fortunately, the 1967 court recognized that religious beliefs, no matter what they are, cannot limit constitutional rights. Let’s hope the current court is as wise.