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Washington • It's wrong for the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder to consider gay marriages performed in Utah valid while the state government does not, says a Republican congressman from Texas.
Rep. Randy Weber has a bill that would require the federal government to follow the state's lead and among his co-sponsors is Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
"It is a travesty what happened in Utah," said Weber, a freshman House member. "I think it is a travesty that Eric Holder would be a political activist and come out and say they are going to recognize those 1,300 marriages."
County clerks in Utah issued 1,340 marriage licenses to same-sex couples between Dec. 20, when federal Judge Robert Shelby ruled that Utah's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, and Jan. 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on that ruling while the case is appealed.
It's not clear how many couples finalized those licenses before the stay. Those who did are eligible for federal marriage benefits, according to Holder, who issued a video statement Jan. 10 that said: "I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages."
Holder's statement came just one day after Weber introduced his State Marriage Defense Act. That legislation would require the federal government to give marriage rights to couples based on the laws of the state in which they live, not on whether they hold a valid marriage license in any state.
Weber said his bill wasn't a reaction to Utah's court case, but to the Supreme Court's decision last year that struck down the federal definition of marriage in the Defense of Marriage Act, but upheld a state's right to define the institution. "You don't want the citizens of New York or Massachusetts imposing their views on Texans or vice versa," he said. "That is why it seems pretty common sense to me."
Bishop, who represents northern Utah, said he signed on to the bill before the state's dramatic 18 days of legal gay marriage.
"I've always said in this entire arena that the state should have primacy on the definition and the handling of marriage," he said. "It is not about fairness, it is about standardization."
Scott McCoy, a former state senator from Utah who is gay and married to his partner in New York, said he sees the bill "as some kind of bulwark against what they probably perceive to be the rising tide."
For those few weeks, Utah became the 18th state to issue same-sex-marriage licenses. Eight states joined that list in the past year alone. A federal judge in Oklahoma ruled that state's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional Tuesday, though that decision is stayed pending an appeal.
As it stands, McCoy is considered married in New York, but if he moved to Utah or to one of the other 33 states that don't recognize same-sex marriage, he'd be considered single. That could impact his ability to obtain insurance or other benefits and privileges.
He summed up Weber's bill this way: "If you are at 50 percent, rather than take it up to 100 percent to equalize the state and federal laws, we drop it to zero. You get nothing if you move to a state that recognizes marriage as only between a man and a woman."
"Recognizing it for federal purposes, how does that in any way hurt the state from defining state marriages in the state law?" asked McCoy, a lawyer who fought against Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.
Weber answers that question by saying if gay couples want the rights of marriage, they are free to move to a state that recognizes such marriages.
"On the other hand," he said, "if residents of Texas want to define marriage in their state, you do what Texans do."
His legislation has yet to be scheduled for a House hearing, but its chances of becoming law appear to be slim, particularly since President Barack Obama favors gay marriage. The legal case involving Utah's same-sex-marriage ban is now before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.