Third amendment proposal captures attention of voters throughout state
When moral issues are part of a debate, the subject becomes the center of attention. In the case of the general election on Nov. 2, the proposed third constitutional amendment is taking center stage
The proposal does not physically change anything that currently exists in the Utah Constitution, but adds a section to the document.
The proposed amendment adds Section 29 to Article One of the state's powerful law instrument.
Understanding the ramifications of the amendment is difficult even for skilled lawmakers.
As with all changes to a constitution, many people support the amendment and many oppose the proposal.
For some Utahns, the choice is simple because they believe the amendment is about same sex marriage and banning the practice from the state.
To others, the addition could be a path of stumbling blocks in a dark room that could negatively affect all marriages and families
The best way to look at a constitutional amendment is break the proposal down into parts, examine the sections individually and listen to differing points of view.
The first section of the proposed amendment states: "Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman."
Under current state statute, Utahns can enter into valid marriages in two ways.
The first way is to have a marriage performed by an individual authorized by the state. The person can be a religious or civic figure who has been legally granted the right to perform the marriage.
The second way is to secure a court order validating a common law marriage. The man and woman must have lived together and presented themselves as being married even though an approved ceremony has not been performed
Utah already has laws on the books regarding what a marriage is.
However, proponents of the amendment claim courts could interpret the meaning of the law differently and put the state in the same position as Massachusetts without where judges on the state's supreme court ruled that same sex marriage could take place. That precedent, according to proponents, could cause other state's laws to be over turned, including Utah's. By enacting the amendment, that would solidify Utah's stand on the issue.
Opponents to the amendment argue that laws against gay marriage already exist in three places in state statute and that in general, Utah judges are very conservative and would never overturn what already exists.
But some are asking if it already exists in state law, why then does it matter if an amendment to the constitution is added to strengthen the law? That answer, opponents assert, many of whom are also opposed to gay marriage, lays in the second part of the amendment, which reads, "no other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage."
For proponents, this just strengthens the first part of the amendment by spelling out that a marriage is only as it has been traditionally known. In essence it prohibits any other kind of domestic union from being given the same effect as a traditional marriage bond, limiting rights, benefits as well as obligations for persons involved.
But for others, it appears to weaken many kinds of situations which may and do occur in society, including some that have nothing to do with same sex marriage. They say the wording in part two is vague and could not only hurt some same sex couples in the areas of property, wills, medical decisions, bank accounts and other legal devises, but could also expose the state to an endless list of lawsuits over discrimination based on parts of the United States Constitution, including the Equal Protection Clause.
When viewing the entire amendment, many people have an emotional reaction to it as well as one that looks at the legal ramifications. Some see it as a way to keep traditional families and marriages valid in a world that often seems topsy turvy to them. For those on the opposite side, they see the law as singling out certain people for discrimination and that compassionate Utahns would not want such a thing for anyone.
Most of those running for office seem to have a mix of feelings within themselves about the proposed change.
"I have always defined marriage as between a man and a woman," pointed out Congressman Jim Matheson. "I will vote for amendment three."
His opponent John Swallow, also said that he is for the amendment as well.
Representative Brad King, who represents district 69 in the state house of representatives, said he he thinks the amendment has too many unknowns to it and he is in opposition.
"I find it interesting that the very people who are in the strongest support of this amendment are always the ones that want the government out of their personal lives," he said recently. "I voted against it in the session and will vote against it this fall. This is not what the constitution is for."
Walt Borla, who is running for the state house in district 6,7 said that he opposes the amendment because he sees passage as a "lawyer's paradise" in that there will be many suits against the state over it. His opponent, Patrick Painter, who wants to take over the open seat in that district which represents about one-third of Carbon County's population, said he approves of the amendment and will vote for it in the election.
Probably the most prominent state office holder that has come out against the amendment is Republican Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, whose office would have to defend it against legal challenges. His Democratic opponent Greg Skordas also opposes the amendment as does the third candidate for the office, Libertarian candidate Andrew McCullough.
"I think whether people agree with me on this issue or not, they should make themselves aware of the mean-spirited nature of the second part of Amendment 3, and vote no." stated McCullough. "This amendment is more than is necessary to support traditional marriage, and will be very hurtful to many people."