Eric Holder Pushes Back Against Utah by Recognizing the State’s Gay Marriages


Persecution is defined as systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another individual or group, and it is most likely borne of religion, ethnicity, or political affiliation. Most Americans likely think of persecution, particularly religious and political persecution, as a problem in countries ruled by tyrants, but two days ago a woman in America said, “We are starting to feel persecuted, the state is going out of their way to make things as difficult for people as they possibly can.” The woman is unfortunate and feels persecuted because she happens to live in one of the most socially conservative states in the Union. Since socially conservative is political code for “theodemocracy,” it is simple to figure out the woman lives in Utah, is gay, and recently married after a federal district court judge ruled Utah’s biblical ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

After Utah appealed to two courts to have the ruling overturned, and lost their appeal for a stay to halt same-sex marriages, the Supreme Court stepped in and halted any further same-sex marriages until the case went through the orderly appellate process. Utah’s Mormon governor, Gary Herbert, decided that he could not wait for the appellate court ruling and announced Wednesday that Utah will not recognize same-sex marriages despite it issued 1,300 state marriage licenses to same-sex couples who married before the Supreme Court halted the marriages.

It was Herbert’s announcement that drove the woman to say “we are starting to feel persecuted” but yesterday the federal government made an important announcement that should relieve some of her persecution anxiety. It may also set up another call for an uprising from Mormon former sheriff Richard Mack who contends county sheriff’s decide the law of the land and that Constitutional matters are the not the purview of the federal judiciary. Even though he is not a county sheriff, or any kind of law enforcement officer, Mack stated emphatically that the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause is unconstitutional, and wrong. Mack, like a rash of extremists is convinced that Utah’s biblical amendment supersedes federal law and decisions by the federal judiciary; particularly in matters of same-sex marriage.

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Yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder set the record straight and announced that regardless of Utah’s intent to discriminate against same-sex married couples, the federal government will recognize the 1,300 same-sex marriages and grant federal marriage benefits to the couples who were issued Utah marriage licenses and wed before the Supreme Court issued its stay. Holder 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. These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds. In the days ahead, we will continue to coordinate across the federal government to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit to which Utah couples are entitled, regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages.”

Holder’s announcement was cheered by gay couples and supporters of same-sex marriage, especially after being persecuted by Utah governor Herbert’s announcement the state would not recognize their new marriages they claim are just as valid as any in Utah. Utah’s governor disagrees and issued a memo to state officials explaining that “the original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts. It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex marriages.”

However, Utah did start offering benefits to many same-sex couples, issuing new driver’s licenses to people who had taken their spouses’ last names and adding same-sex partners to health insurance plans. But that all stopped with the governor’s announcement that Utah would not recognize the marriages and means the status of applications for marriage benefits are frozen and awaiting resolution of the state’s litigation. It is litigation, by the way, to gain court approval for the biblical ban on same-sex marriages.  Utah Mormons are counting on activist judges to rule that the state’s amendment regarding the establishment of religion is constitutional even if it is a biblical edict, but that is one of the detriments of living in a “socially conservative” state. It is unlikely the state will recognize the marriages even if the Circuit Court rules against them and they promised to continue appealing a negative decision all the way to the Supreme Court; Republican Mormons set aside $2 million of taxpayer money to fight for the biblical law and against Constitutional equality.

The good news for some same-sex couples is that although Utah will not provide any additional benefits, it will not revoke those it already granted and has not invalidated any of the same-sex marriages yet. There have been no pronouncements from Richard Mack and opponents of marriage equality condemning Holder’s announcement after calling for “an uprising” against gay marriage last weekend, but the Justice Department announcement only affects federal marriage benefits. Holder’s message was good news for same-sex couples who were married in a brief 19-day window, but it does nothing to relieve other same-sex couples who have to wait until Utah drags the issue of equality and whether the bible is the law of the land through the appeals process; it could theoretically take a year or more.

There is more than just a state’s right to enact law’s based on religion at play in the Utah same-sex marriage controversy, and although it is a national atrocity that no federal judge has the courage to rule the Utah ban violates the 1st Amendment’s Separation Clause, Holder made an important statement about equality. Holder’s announcement that Utah’s same-sex couples are eligible for “the same relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages,” and that the federal government was working “to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit to which Utah couples are entitled, regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages” reassured Americans the federal government still operates according to the Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights.

It was important that Holder made no distinction between same-sex couples in Utah and states that have embraced marriage equality, and that there is no difference between same-sex or opposite-sex marriages. Utah and a slew of other “socially conservative” states cannot tolerate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights and will continue singling out one demographic for religious and political persecution because they are typical religious tyrants like the Taliban.


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