Some might assume that the reddest of red states would have the strongest case prepared in defense of its ban on same-sex marriage. Well, that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Utah’s case has been so riddled with errors, mistakes, and mishaps, it could almost be mistaken for the Three Stooges’ 1936 Disorder in the Court.
Nobody was expecting to see marriage equality arrive in Utah without a federal mandate, much less in December of 2013. I mean come on, it’s Utah—home of the Mormon (LDS) church, an almost 90 percent Republican state legislature, and a voter-approved constitutional ban on not only marriage for same-sex couples, but also civil unions or anything even closely resembling similar recognition of non-hetero couples. But perhaps it was that very security in their iron-clad shield against the “gay agenda” that has caused such havoc and ineptitude in the case.
Utah was at a disadvantage in the case over Amendment 3 (its 2004 ban on marriage equality) from the beginning. At the time it was argued before Utah Judge Robert Shelby, Utah’s Republican Attorney General John Swallow was under multiple investigations for fraud and corruption by the FBI, DOJ, state legislature, Utah Bar Association, and the Salt Lake County/Davis County District Attorneys. The investigations (which ultimately led to Swallow’s resignation) caused major disruption in the Attorney General’s office, and the seemingly easy-win case for Utah wasn’t given much time or attention. The usual conservative arguments were made—same-sex couples are just awful parents, marriage has been between a man and a woman since before time, etc.—and everyone just assumed that would be enough.
But then Judge Shelby, drawing on the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, ruled in favor of marriage equality. And in what has got to be the most irrational string of mistakes in a major court case ever seen, Utah fell apart scrambling to fix things.
First, Utah was so sure of its easy victory, the AG’s office didn’t even have the usual request for a stay to be immediately issued if Shelby were to rule against them in place. As a result, the ruling went into effect immediately and more than 1300 happy couples stormed county clerks’ offices demanding marriage licenses. Working overnight to prepare the stay request, the office then incorrectly filed the request for a stay with the 10th Circuit Court (which oversees lower courts in Utah), which rejected their request because they hadn’t gone through Judge Shelby yet. After several days, Utah was able to get time in front of Judge Shelby for a hearing on the stay, but by then hundreds of couples had already been married and Shelby denied their request. Utah then went back to the 10th Circuit, which also rejected them, before filing for an emergency stay with the Supreme Court to get the hold on marriages put in place—a full 17 days (and 1,355 marriages) after the original ruling. If you watch the courts often, you’ll know how hilarious this is. If Utah had their request for a stay in before the ruling was issued—as nearly every attorney knows to do—it almost certainly would have been immediately granted before any couples could tie the knot.
Now Utah had to put together their brief for the 10th Circuit Court. In the interest of space, let’s just skip over how they were unable to put together their briefs on time, and had to file for multiple extensions of time.
The circular logic of Utah’s briefs have been nothing if not a professional-grade contortionist act to watch. New Attorney General Sean Reyes (who took over after Swallow’s resignation), argued that Utah could not, in fact, recognize same-sex couples who had married after Amendment 3 was ruled unconstitutional - because of Amendment 3.
The illogical (borderline incompetent) briefs would be hilarious, if only they weren’t coming at the expensive of our tax dollars. The Utah Legislature budgeted 2 million taxpayer dollars for the case, and spent hundreds of thousands on outside counsel brought in from the vehemently (and hilariously) anti-gay Sutherland Institute, yet still can’t get its act together. In the latest round of submitted briefs to the 10th Circuit Court, Utah was forced to submit a clarification brief, asking the court to let them correct more than ninety misspelling, grammar, and incorrect citation errors. As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, it turns out that the clarification brief had errors of its own, and Utah had to submit another brief to fix the new errors.
Adding to the hilarity of the massive list of errors (which any 1st-year law student should have caught), one of the three judges on the 10th Circuit Court is Bush Sr.-appointee Paul Kelly, Jr., back in 2004 warned attorneys submitting briefs “[P]roofread your brief (more than once) before you file it. We review hundreds and hundreds of briefs every year; you don’t want us distracted from the merits by missing verbs, misspelled names, incorrect citations, improper grammar or sentences that run for pages. Enough said.”
But the crux of Utah’s case, and the truest embarrassment to conservative cases against marriage equality everywhere, is their reliance on their argument that gay couples make lousy parents. Utah offers as its proof two different studies to back their arguments. The first is a 2002 study from Child Trends, and the second is the infamous 2012 study from sociologist Mark Regnerus. Unfortunately for Utah, neither study actually says what they claim.
Child Trends president, Carol Emig, has repeated gone on the record chastising anyone who claims that their study disparages same-sex couples, saying:
“The Child Trends brief in question summarizes research conducted in 2002, when same-sex parents were not identified in large national surveys. Therefore, no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the well-being of children raised by same-sex parents. .. We have pointed this out repeatedly, yet to our dismay we continually see our 2002 research mischaracterized by some opponents of same-sex marriage.”
The Regnerus study has been even further ridiculed and debunked by scientific community at large. The project was funded by the viciously anti-gay Witherspoon Institute—cofounded by Robert P. George, who also cofounded the National Organizations for Marriage (NOM)—for the express purpose of “proving” that same-sex couples are inferior parents.
Unfortunately, the research was unable to bear that result out, and so the final study ended up comparing children raised in a two-parent home to children of single parents who may or may not have happened to have physical same-sex relations during the child’s rearing. In fact, of the more than 3,000 children sampled, only two were actually raised by two same-sex parents. The backlash of the Regnerus study using such dubious data to reach his conclusion that because two parents do better than single parents (who may or may not be gay), that means same-sex couples make horrible parents, was quick and severe. The study’s intent, methods, and results have been denounced by 200 of his peers, his coworkers at the University of Texas at Austin, the science community at large, and most recently by Michigan Judge Bernard Friedman who called the study “entirely unbelievable,” and “not worthy of serious consideration.”
Keep it up Utah, we can’t wait to see what you do next.
Follow Eric Ethington on Twitter @EricEthington
Eric Ethington has been specializing in political messaging, communications strategy, and public relations for more than a decade. Originally hailing from Salt Lake City, he now works in Boston for a social justice think tank. Eric’s writing, advocacy work, and research have been featured on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, the New York Times, The Telegraph, and The Public Eye magazine. He’s worked as a radio host, pundit, blogger, activist and electoral campaign strategist. He also writes at NuanceStillMatters.com
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