Utah Pride Center files U.S. Supreme Court brief in gay marriage cases
U.S. Supreme Court • Utah Pride Center's legal brief at odds with LDS Church's last month.
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Citing examples of discrimination in Utah, lawyers representing the Utah Pride Center and 26 other groups filed a legal brief Wednesday urging the U.S. Supreme Court to declare that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry.

The high court is scheduled to hear arguments March 26-27 on legal challenges to California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which both define marriage as between one man and one woman.

"This court once helped the nation on its journey to become a more perfect union by using judicial review to dismantle the system of de jure [by law] racial segregation that once ruled in many states," the Pride Center's amicus brief states. "The promise of America will not be realized until there is legal equality for gay Americans everywhere — not just at Stonewall and in Seneca Falls, but also in Selma, Sacramento and Salt Lake City."

The filing comes amid recent declarations of support for same-sex marriage from more than two dozen prominent Republicans, such as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Last month, the LDS Church and other evangelical churches and groups submitted their legal arguments for traditional marriage.

"Marriage defined as the union of one man and one woman is an axiom of Western civilization, not an attack on the civil rights of gays and lesbians," the amicus brief filed by the churches states. "On the day California voters approved Proposition 8, no federal law prohibited them from restoring the ancient definition of marriage that had prevailed in the state for all but five months of its history."

The Pride Center's brief contends discrimination — including discriminatory laws — harms lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens. It points out the recent suicide of Bennion Junior High student David Phan.

"Legislative bullying against gay people has seeded the bullying of gay children in classrooms and on playgrounds," the brief states. "The connection between school policies and teen suicide recently hit home in Taylorsville, Utah, on Nov. 29, 2012. After being teased and ridiculed by peers for months — and after being suspended by school officials who had searched him and confronted him about having a condom in his backpack — an embarrassed and bullied gay teenager could take no more. He returned to school with a pistol and a single bullet. He shot himself as classmates watched in horror."

The brief from the center — a nonprofit based in Salt Lake City to serve Utah's LGBT community — also addresses LGBT service members coming to the Beehive State.

"Members of our military — including those who are gay and may have married legally in other states — put their lives on the line for our country on a daily basis," the brief states. "Yet if a married gay service member were to die off-base, the surviving spouse could be treated as a stranger by state law. The surviving spouse could even be denied control over the remains and funeral rites."

"The men and women of the United States military deserve to be honored for protecting our nation," the brief states. "They should not be denigrated either by DOMA or states like Utah that would decline to honor their marital vows."

Utah lawyers Paul Burke and Brett Tolman wrote the Pride Center's brief, along with groups such as the Campaign for Southern Equality. Burke is a founding board member of the Utah Democratic Lawyers Council, while Tolman is a former U.S. attorney for Utah, appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.

"There is a system of discrimination set up in states like Utah where certain local laws offend the Constitution and do harm to the lives of gay Americans," Burke said in a statement.

Salt Lake City attorney Von Keetch's office referred questions about the opposing amicus brief, which has the support of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to the church's communication office. It did not have a comment beyond what was included in the earlier brief.

rparker@sltrib.com

Twitter@rayutah