Supporters hold a pro-gay marriage rally outside the Utah State Capitol, Jan. 28, 2014.
George Frey/Getty

Gay marriage debate hits Utah airwaves

Two days before a federal appeals court is set to hear oral arguments in a case that could topple Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage – and potentially every other state ban on such unions – a group is out with two new ads that aim to show the wide array of support for marriage equality across the ultra-conservative state.

The 30-second spots, released Tuesday by the organization Utah Unites for Marriage, feature real families with a stake in the court’s decision. In one ad, former TV news anchor Terry Wood argues that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples would strengthen the state, and he talks about what’s he’s learned from his gay son.

“I’ve come to realize that marriage is for all people,” says Wood. “If gay and lesbian couples are allowed the right of marriage, it’s not going to hurt the state one bit.”

In the other ad, William and Marge Bradshaw – both Mormons – make a similar case for same-sex marriage.

“When Brett told us he was gay, both of us put our arms around our son and said, ‘We love you, and that’s never going to change,’” says William.

“All gay and lesbian people deserve to have the rights and the privileges that we’ve had,” says his wife.

Utah briefly joined more than a dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, in allowing gay couples to legally wed late last year, when a federal judge overturned the state’s 10-year-old amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Because U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby did not issue a stay on the effects of his ruling, approximately 1,300 same-sex couples were able to marry in the state. Seventeen days later, the nation’s highest court halted further same-sex marriages from taking place in Utah while litigation continued.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced shortly after that the federal government would honor those same-sex marriages that took place in the state, even if Utah’s government would not.

On Thursday, a three-judge panel from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case of Kitchen v. Herbert, the suit filed on behalf of three same-sex couples in Utah. It marks the first time since the June 2013 Supreme Court defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex nuptials – and Proposition 8 – California’s ban on such unions – that arguments in a marriage equality case will go before an appeals court. Exactly one week later, the Tenth Circuit will hear arguments in a suit challenging Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage. Both cases stand a chance at reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, which could lead to a broad ruling legalizing marriage equality across the nation.

Twenty-five amicus briefs, including one from a coalition of more than two dozen religious organizations, have been filed in support of marriage equality in the Kitchen case. Absent among them, however, is the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which joined four other religious groups in a brief outlining why “marriage between a man and a woman is sanctioned by God as the right and best setting for bearing and raising children.”

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, said at a rally Monday that she hopes the new ads will “inform the conversation of who we are and who our families are.”

“We’re taking the conversation into people’s living rooms,” said Balken.

Marriage Equality

Gay marriage debate hits Utah airwaves