Mar 05, 2014

Americans United has joined a legal brief asking a federal appeals court to uphold a lower court ruling that struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban.The brief, filed by Americans United, the Anti-Defamation League and 23 other religious and public policy groups, says the state’s ban is unconstitutional and argues that it restricts, rather than protects, religious liberty.

“A handful of religious groups should not be allowed to define marriage for all Americans,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “That is fundamentally at odds with what religious liberty is supposed to be about. The Constitution guarantees protection for everyone, not just a privileged few.”The brief, filed before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, argues that the government cannot adopt a definition of marriage favored by some religious groups.

“A decision overturning the Marriage Ban would assure full state recognition of civil marriages, while allowing religious groups the freedom to choose how to define marriage for themselves,” the groups assert. “It is a violation of the First Amendment to deny individuals the right to marry on the grounds that such marriages would offend the tenets of a particular religious group.”The brief ads, “While many religious institutions may have a history of defining marriage as between a man and a woman, those traditions are separate from, and cannot be allowed to dictate, civil law.”Utah’s same-sex marriage ban is the result of a 2004 public referendum. In 2013, six plaintiffs sued the state over the ban, arguing that it violated their constitutional rights. A federal court later ruled for the plaintiffs. Hundreds of same-sex couples rushed to the altar, but Utah refused to recognize the marriages. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay on the ruling pending an appeal, which halted same-sex marriages in the state.The brief was prepared by attorneys at Ropes & Gray LLP and the Anti-Defamation League, with input from Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex Luchenitser.

“Laws that are based on religious motives violate the separation of church and state,” Luchenitser noted. “Utah’s marriage ban was plainly motivated by religious animus against gay and lesbian people.”

Other groups joining Americans United and the ADL include: the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America; Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Central Conference of American Rabbis; Metropolitan Community Churches; More Light Presbyterians; The National Council of Jewish Women; People For the American Way Foundation; Society for Humanistic Judaism; and Women's League for Conservative Judaism.