Mormon church to weigh in on gay marriage ban

BRADY McCOMBS Associated Press Published:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Mormon church and a coalition of religious organizations are expected to file an argument to a federal appeals court by midnight explaining why they believe Utah's same-sex marriage ban should stand.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will file a "friend of the court" brief, along with Catholic, Southern Baptist and Lutheran organizations and the National Association of Evangelicals, court records show. The brief is being handled by the Salt Lake City law firm that represents the Mormon church, Kirton and McConkie.

Monday is the deadline for filings in support of Utah before the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Other groups and organizations have already submitted their arguments, including a group of attorney generals from 10 states who argue same-sex marriage is not part of American tradition.

Utah state attorneys filed their opening argument last week, saying the optimal environment for raising children is with a mother and father. The state contends that redefining marriage poses "real, concrete risks to children" because not having a mother or father leads to emotional damage. The state said its duty is to look out for the long-term interests of children who can't defend themselves.

Attorneys for three gay and lesbian couples in Utah who brought the lawsuit against Utah will file their response by Feb. 25. Organizations who want to send in arguments in support of the couples have until March 4.

The couples' attorneys have scoffed at the notion that gay and lesbian couples make inferior parents, saying there is no scientific evidence to back that claim.

They also have pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last summer that struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act as backing in this case. In that decision, the justices wrote that limiting marriages to a man and a woman relegates gay marriages to second-class status and "humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples."

A hearing has been set for April 10 in Denver.

The court will then decide if it agrees with a federal judge in Utah who in mid-December overturned the 2004-voter passed ban, saying it violates gay and lesbian couples' rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. The appeals court also is reviewing a similar decision about Oklahoma's ban, and a hearing on that case has been set for April 17.

The arguments in support of Utah's gay marriage ban, passed by two-thirds of voters in 2004, trickled in Monday.

Attorney generals from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Carolina filed a brief that said same-sex marriage is not part of the country's roots and traditions.

"Traditional marriage is too deeply imbedded in our laws, history and traditions for a court to hold that more recent state constitutional enactment of that definition is illegitimate or irrational," Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller wrote.

Zoeller went on to tamp down the notion that defining marriage as between a man and a woman discriminates against gays and lesbians.

"There is no plausible argument that the traditional definition of marriage was invented as a way to discriminate against homosexuals or to maintain the 'superiority' of heterosexuals," Zoeller wrote.

The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy argued in court papers submitted Monday that the federal government doesn't have the right to tell states how to regulate marriage.

Others weighing in include college professors offering their opinion on the whether the U.S. Constitution grants gays and lesbians the right to marry.

The conservative Sutherland Institute of Utah argued in its brief that families led by mothers and fathers are an integral part of "ordered liberty" that allows children to be raised with "social constraint" and "moral character."

The Utah-based Mormon church's stance on homosexuality has softened considerably since it was one of the leading forces behind California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage.

A new website launched last year encourages more compassion toward gays, implores them to stay in the faith and clarifies that church leaders no longer "necessarily advise" gays to marry people of the opposite sex in what used to be a widely practiced Mormon workaround for homosexuality.

Also last year, church leaders backed the Boy Scouts' policy allowing gays in the ranks. Some gay Mormons who left or were forced out of the church say they are now being welcomed back -- even though they remain in same-sex relationships.

But the church continues to teach that marriage should be reserved only for a man and a woman. After the surprise ruling from the federal judge on Dec. 20, the church quickly made clear that it opposed the decision.

As hundreds of gay and lesbian couples married after that ruling, the church told local leaders that same-sex wedding ceremonies and receptions were prohibited in their churches. That same day, church leaders reminded members that civil law or trends in society cannot change the "moral law that God has established."