Religious Groups Join, Fight Gay Marriage in Court
SALT LAKE CITY - A coalition of religious organizations has come together to urge a federal appeals court to uphold same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma, saying unions between a man and woman are best for children, families and society.
The argument was made in a 42-page brief filed Monday afternoon to a Denver-based court reviewing cases that could reverse gay-marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma.
Lawyers for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote the brief, which was signed by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
''Our respective religious doctrines hold that marriage between a man and a woman is sanctioned by God as the right and best setting for bearing and raising children,'' it says. ''We believe that children, families, society, and our nation thrive best when husband-wife marriage is upheld and strengthened as a cherished, primary social institution.''
The coalition struck back at the notion that opposing gay marriage makes one anti-gay, irrational or bigoted.
''The accusation is false and offensive,'' it says. ''It is intended to suppress rational dialogue and democratic conversation, to win by insult and intimidation rather than by reason, experience, and fact.''
They say they have no ill will toward same-sex couples, only ''marriage-affirming religious beliefs,'' supported by sociological facts, saying holding on to the man-woman definition of marriage is essential.
The ''friend of the court'' brief was one of several submitted Monday by groups, professors and state attorneys general supporting Utah and Oklahoma in their efforts to persuade the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse recent rulings by federal court judges.
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said Monday that religions will always be free to choose which marriages they perform.
But in a statement, Minter added that ''the state cannot exclude any group of people from a fundamental right based on religious views held by some. Our society is strengthened when the law both supports all families and protects the freedoms of conscience and belief.''
The organization is teaming with a pair of Salt Lake City attorneys to represent the pro-gay marriage case.
Utah state attorneys filed their opening argument in support of banning gay marriage last week, saying the optimal environment for raising children is with a mother and father. The state contends that redefining marriage poses ''real, concrete risks to children'' because not having a mother or father leads to emotional damage. The state said its duty is to look out for the long-term interests of children who can't defend themselves.
Attorneys for three gay and lesbian couples in Utah who brought the lawsuit against Utah will file their response by Feb. 25. Organizations who want to send in arguments in support of the couples have until March 4.
The couples' attorneys have scoffed at the notion that gay and lesbian couples make inferior parents, saying there is no scientific evidence to back that claim.
They also have pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last summer striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act as backing in this case. In that decision, the justices wrote that limiting marriages to a man and a woman relegates gay marriages to second-class status and ''humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.''
A hearing has been set for April 10 in Denver.
The court will then decide if it agrees with a federal judge in Utah who in mid-December overturned the 2004-voter passed ban, saying it violates gay and lesbian couples' rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. The appeals court also is reviewing a similar decision about Oklahoma's ban, and a hearing on that case has been set for April 17.
The arguments in support of Utah's gay-marriage ban, passed by two-thirds of voters in 2004, trickled in Monday.
Attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Carolina filed a brief that said same-sex marriage is not part of the country's roots and traditions.
''Traditional marriage is too deeply imbedded in our laws, history and traditions for a court to hold that more recent state constitutional enactment of that definition is illegitimate or irrational,'' Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller wrote.
The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy argued in court papers submitted Monday that the federal government doesn't have the right to tell states how to regulate marriage. Others weighing include college professors offering their opinion on whether the U.S. Constitution grants gays and lesbians the right to marry.
The conservative Sutherland Institute of Utah argued in its brief that families led by mothers and fathers are an integral part of ''ordered liberty'' that allows children to be raised with ''social constraint'' and ''moral character.''
The members of religious coalition said in their paper they have unequaled practical experience that offers proof of the benefits from mother-father parenting. On the flip side, the coalition says, ''we deal daily with the devastating effects of out-of-wedlock births, failed marriages, and the general decline of the venerable husband-wife marriage institution.''
The actions of the Utah-based Mormon church have been closely watched since the surprise ruling from the federal judge on Dec. 20.
The faith's stance on homosexuality has softened considerably since it was one of the leading forces behind California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage.
A new website launched last year encouraged more compassion toward gays, imploring them to stay in the faith and clarifying that church leaders no longer ''necessarily advise'' gays to marry people of the opposite sex in what used to be a widely practiced Mormon workaround for homosexuality.
Also last year, church leaders backed the Boy Scouts' policy allowing gays in the ranks. Some gay Mormons who left or were forced out of the church say they are now being welcomed back - even though they remain in same-sex relationships.
But the church has left little doubt how it feels about same-sex marriage in the last month.
As hundreds of gay and lesbian couples married in Utah after that ruling, the church told local leaders that same-sex wedding ceremonies and receptions were prohibited in their churches. That same day, church leaders reminded members that civil law or trends in society cannot change the ''moral law that God has established.''