Utah's Kitchen v. Herbert Headlines Glut of Gay Marriage Cases SCOTUS Begins Reviewing Today

Today the U.S. Supreme Court will begin weighing which cases to hear in its coming session, and at the top of the list is the raft of marriage-equality cases that have lined up at federal appeals courts all year.

The High Court’s 2014-2015 session begins a week from today, October 6, but the justices aren’t obliged to fill out the court’s full docket by then. What’s more, with so many marriage cases bubbling up through the system, they may decide to hold off for weeks to decide which if any of the cases to hear.

Still, many believe that Kitchen v. Herbert, the case that overturned Utah’s gay marriage ban, will be among the most-compelling to the justices, rising above similar cases from Indiana, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Utah district judge Robert Shelby delivered a pathbreaking, comprehensive ruling against the ban last December. In June, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld Shelby’s ruling. It was the first federal appellate court domino to fall. In the months afterward, appeals court judges around the country began echoing Shelby’s ruling as well as the decision handed down by the Tenth Circuit in Denver.

The Kitchen case also addresses key issues in the matter all at once. It considers the constitutional right for gay people to marry and whether states should have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Also, the Utah governor and attorney general are committed to defending the state’s marriage ban. That’s not true in all of the other cases. Virginia’s state officials, for example, have declined to defend that state’s ban.

Gay-rights group Freedom to Marry, which has been at the forefront of the marriage equality movement for years — battling state marriage bans in the courts but also in the court of public opinion — has been watching Utah closely.

The group commissioned a poll done by Benenson Strategy Group in Utah a week ago. The poll found that by a one-point majority — 49 percent to 48 percent — residents of conservative, heavily Mormon Utah agree that same sex-couples should be allowed to get a state-issued marriage license.

More than that, however, 94 percent of those polled believe gay marriages will not impact straight marriages; 84 percent say gay marriage won’t impact their family; and 65 percent say it won’t adversely impact the state.

Another key finding of the poll is that 20 percent of Utahns who oppose gay marriage would support it if they were confident churches in Utah would not be made to perform or recognize gay marriages.

As Freedom to Marry put it in its release: “This singular piece of information brings the percent who disagree that marriage for same-sex couples should be legal in Utah down to 34 percent and would push the percent who agree up to 60 percent.”

“This poll shows that the people of Utah, like Americans all across the country, already support or are ready to live with the freedom to marry,” said Evan Wolfson, the organization’s founder and president. “Utahns, like Americans generally, believe the Supreme Court should act now and will rule in favor.

“Indeed, when the freedom to marry has come to states like Utah, there has been little or no real opposition or concern – even those who are less than keen know it’s coming and doesn’t affect their lives, their families, their marriages, or their community. The ‘dog that didn’t bark’ is further proof that America is ready for the freedom to marry and that it’s time for the Court to bring the country to national resolution.”

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