Utahns cheer, jeer California gay-marriage ruling

Gay marriage » The LDS Church welcomes the decision as 300 protest it at the Capitol.
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St. George couple Derek Streeter and Stephen Eiche huddled over a computer Tuesday to check the news together: California's gay-marriage ban stands, but their union is safe.

"We wept a little," said Streeter, who married Eiche, his partner of 20 years, near San Diego last August. "We knew probably they would uphold the marriages -- so that's good -- but we were really sad for everybody else."

The California Supreme Court, in a 6-1 ruling, validated Proposition 8, last fall's voter-approved constitutional amendment forbidding same-sex marriage. But the justices voted unanimously to keep in place the 18,000 marriages that were performed last year when such unions were legal.

"Today's decision by the California Supreme Court is welcome," the Prop 8-backing LDS Church said in a news release. "The bedrock institution of marriage between a man and a woman has profound implications for our society."

But more than 300 Utahns rallied outside the Capitol building on Tuesday night to protest the court decision, waving rainbow flags and signs with slogans like "Repeal Proposition H8" and "18,000 a good start." They cheered two same-sex couples who wed in California last year.

"This means a lot to me and it gives me hope," Salt Lake City resident Martha Amundsen, who married "the love of her life," Lisa Altman, in San Francisco, told the crowd.

Recognizing the unions of 18,000 couples "was the right thing to do," said Matthew Landis, a member of the board of Utahns for Marriage Equality, which organized the rally. "But until all marriages are recognized, it's not good enough."

Gay and lesbian Utahns, he noted, have been especially interested in the California marriage issue because of the LDS Church's prominent role in the 2008 campaign. Mormons, including many in Utah, donated millions to bolster the successful ballot initiative after the church formally endorsed Prop 8.

"It's especially heartbreaking and disappointing for people here in Utah," Landis said, "because we know so much of the money to bring about Proposition 8 came from our own families and our own state."

Utahns kicked in $2.7 million to pass Prop 8. The LDS Church, as an organization, contributed close to $200,000 worth of support. Orem gay-rights activist Bruce Bastian forked over $1 million to fight the measure.

After Prop 8's passage, protests erupted outside LDS temples, including a 3,000-strong rally near the faith's iconic Salt Lake Temple. The Utah-based church then issued statements that, while it fought against gay marriage, it does not oppose certain legal protections for same-sex couples.

Those post-Prop 8 statements gave rise to Equality Utah's push for the Common Ground Initiative during the 2009 Legislature. But the three-bill campaign stalled on Utah's Capitol Hill amid arguments that such measures would take the Beehive State down California's slippery slope to gay marriage.

"What [the California ruling] makes clear," said Will Carlson, Equality Utah's public policy manager, "is that granting protections in the workplace and in housing and even hospital visitation and adoption [for gay couples] doesn't guarantee that marriage licenses are going to be the end result. California, among many states, offers all the protections we are looking for."

Utah has a constitutional ban on gay marriage, Amendment 3, that voters approved by a 2-to-1 margin in 2004.

Bill Duncan, director of the Lehi-based Marriage Law Foundation and a supporter of Utah's amendment, called California's ruling "gratifying."

"It protects not only the idea of marriage, but also the rule of law," Duncan said. "People can use existing law to make public policy without judges overturning the people's decision for no other reason than they disagreed with the people's judgment."

The ruling is especially heartening, Duncan said, after a string of states -- Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine -- recently joined Massachusetts in legalizing gay marriage.

"There's been the argument out there that it's kind of inevitable that marriage is going to be redefined," he said. "This makes it clear that, when voters have a chance to have their say on the question, they understand that marriage [between a man and a woman] is valuable and worth preserving."

But California activists have pledged to repeal Prop 8 by putting gay marriage on the ballot as soon as 2010.

"This time, the [gay-marriage advocates] are going to make sure everyone understands what they're voting for," Streeter said. "Ultimately, it will pass."


Prop 8 ruling

The California Supreme Court, combining three lawsuits, ruled that:

Proposition 8, last fall's voter-approved gay-marriage ban, followed the proper process and is a valid constitutional amendment.

The state will continue to recognize about 18,000 same-sex marriages performed from June to November 2008 - when such unions were legal. The amendment is not retroactive.

What's next

Gay-rights advocates in California hope to repeal Prop 8 by putting the question to voters again. To place the issue on the June 2010 ballot, Bloomberg News reports, they have to gather 700,000 signatures by Sept. 25.