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Gay marriage won't be coming before the U.S. Supreme Court, but justices' decision Monday to let stand lower-court rulings upholding same-sex marriage could become a big issue in the Utah Legislature.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, already has opened a bill file to work on the issue.
"For example, Utah code doesn't have a chapter heading called 'Marriage,'" Powell said. "It is actually titled 'Husband and Wife,' and all the statutes on marriage refer to 'husband and wife.' So we have a lot of work to revise statutes, and have many details to decide."
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who is gay and married, warned that lawmakers should not view such potential rewriting of state law as a chance to undermine the court decision.
"Anyone who is saying we can twist the wording of state law into anything other than full complete equal marriage is going to be in for serious disappointment," he said.
Dabakis also noted that several laws that have been found to be unconstitutional in the past have technically remained on the books without being enforced, and he sees little need to vastly rewrite marriage laws extensively now. He said full marriage rights can simply be extended to gay couples.
Powell said that may be easy with some issues such as tax benefits, health care insurance and inheritance laws but may create problems in such areas as parental rights.
"For example in the case of a married woman who is pregnant, state law now presumes that her husband legally is the father," Powell said.
"What should happen in the case of two women who are married? Should the partner be presumed to have parental rights?" he asked. "What about the rights of the biological father? Are there any? Those are the types of things we need to work through."
Powell said he is even thinking of coining a new term besides "marriage" to deal with such issues in state law, called "pairage" for same-sex pairs. He said that's "because they do not have the ability to produce a child" biologically by themselves, and therefore create some different issues than heterosexual couples.
He said laws for parental rights and children may, or may not, need to be different for "marriage" and "pairage."
In short, Powell says the new court decision "kicks the ball back to state legislatures" to decide many issues. He adds it could lead "to what can be many years of tinkering with marriage laws."
Dabakis said there is no need to rush into decisions.
"Clearly there is a number of issues that need to be worked out," he said. "But there is a framework there, and the framework is for equality."
He added that he is confident that gay marriage cannot be weakened through legislative action because court rulings have "been clear, so nitpicking is not going to be successful. If we get to that, it's just going to be more wasted taxpayer's money on inconsequential issues that the state will lose."
This year while the gay-marriage issue worked through the courts, legislative leaders put a hold on legislation dealing even remotely with it including a bill sponsored by Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, seeking to prohibit housing and employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns.
With the court battle over, such issues now may also be debated again.
Video: Trib Talks on same-sex marriage
On Monday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, University of Utah law professor Emily Chiang and Bill Duncan of the Marriage Law Foundation joined TribTalk host Jennifer Napier-Pearce to discuss the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to bypass same-sex marriage for now.
Still have questions? Join Trib Talk on Tuesday, when Napier-Pearce will talk with newsmakers about what Utah laws need to be fixed to conform with the new law of the land.
On Tuesday at 12:15 p.m., Sen. Jim Dabakis and Rep. Kraig Powell will join Napier-Pearce to discuss the broad impact of Monday's decision and how state legislators will approach the legal revamp in January.
Watch this online video chat live at sltrib.com. You can also join the discussion by sending questions and comments to the hashtag #TribTalk on Twitter and Google+ or texting 801-609-8059.