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A state lawmaker wants to skirt the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage by passing a bill that would purport to give Utah the right to ignore the decision and bar gay unions.
Sponsored by Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, HB393 which is titled Sovereign Marriage Authority seeks to grant Utah sole authority over domestic relations within its borders, including marriage, child welfare and adoption.
It would also aim to give state leaders the right to narrowly interpret and apply judicial rulings that are inconsistent with Utah's historic position on marriage.
The bill debuted late Thursday, but it wasn't scheduled for a committee hearing as of Friday.
Gay-rights advocates immediately denounced the proposal and said that in the wake of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, HB393 would not hold up to any legal challenge.
"The bill is useless unless Representative Christensen is planning to amend it to include a declaration of secession," Salt Lake City gay-rights attorney Paul Burke said on Friday. "Otherwise, the U.S. Constitution and its promise of equality will prevail over any attempt by the state of Utah to diminish the equality of its gay citizens."
Burke said he believes Christensen is trying narrow the scope of the high court's ruling: acknowledging that the state may have to issue licenses to same-sex couples, but drawing a line at giving those couples any other rights.
"He's just wrong about that," said Burke, noting that the Supreme Court specifically stated that its ruling applied to all marriage rights. "Christensen is, despite the court's ruling, attempting to create second-class marriage for gay couples."
Christensen, an attorney, said the Supreme Court's decision "is a very narrow decision that some are trying to expand and misapply."
"Every sentence of the Sovereign Marriage Authority bill comes from Supreme Court rulings and authority," Christensen said, adding his bill preserves current law "while also acknowledging the limited scope of the marriage decision."
The Supreme Court, he said, has made it clear that all domestic-relations laws are policies are "for the states and their legislatures to decide."
In addition to questions about the bill's constitutionality, it appears to fly in the face of a recent statement by Utah's predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"The Utah Legislature achieved something extraordinary last year," LDS spokesman Dale Jones said, referring to the anti-discrimination law that protected the LGBT community in housing and employment while guaranteeing certain religious liberties. "Interests from both ends of the political spectrum are attempting to alter that balance. We believe that the careful balance achieved through being fair to all should be maintained."
The statement was issued in response to a question from media outlets about a proposed hate-crimes laws, but it suggests lawmakers should not tackle any issue that would tread into areas where LGBT rights and conservative values might collide, including those related to marriage, adoption, religious liberty and, apparently, hate crimes.
Gay adoption is the topic of HB382, which was released Friday. Sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, the legislation seeks to give couples in traditional marriages the state-sanctioned preference when placing children in foster care or in adoption cases.
HB382 is another response to the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality decision, which wiped out laws in Utah and other states that prohibited gay couples from adopting or serving as foster parents. HB382 has not yet been slated for a hearing.
While the Mormon church took heavy criticism from Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, for torpedoing his hate-crimes legislation, the faith's suggestion to steer away from LGBT-related bills was endorsed by House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper.
"It seems a little early for me as well" to act so soon after the anti-discrimination legislation, said Hughes. "I'd like to see maybe … and to be fair across the board on both sides, not seeing anything pushed forward. But it's not my style to tell any lawmaker, 'you can't run a bill' or 'I'm going to block you from having a bill,' but I share my opinion in terms of I think it's best in terms of how to handle this year."
Christensen, a conservative Republican who like the majority of lawmakers is Mormon, has a long history of supporting traditional marriage. He authored Utah's Amendment 3, the constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in Utah in 2004 after winning approval of 66 percent of voters.
The law was overturned in 2013 when U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby deemed it unconstitutional.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld the ruling in 2014, about nine months before the Supreme Court's ruling that struck down same-sex-marriage bans across the nation.
Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said his organization will fight HB393, as it has every other attempt by conservative lawmakers to treat Utah's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents differently than other residents.
"No court in this country will uphold Rep. Christensen's bill," Williams said. "It if passes, we are prepared to litigate it and win again."