Nearly 1,000 same-sex couples have tied the knot in Utah since a federal judge struck down the state's ban on gay marriage late last month. The ruling by District Judge Robert Shelby had been the first to overturn a state's gay marriage ban since the Supreme Court's landmark decisions against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s same-sex marriage ban last June. Over the past few weeks, Utah courthouses have been the scenes of jubilation for LGBT couples and the movement for marriage equality. But those unions are now in limbo. On Monday, the Supreme Court granted Utah's request to block same-sex marriages while the ruling is appealed. The case now goes before a federal appeals court in Denver, but many expect it to find its way to the Supreme Court. A Supreme Court decision could have major repercussions across the country: If Utah’s ban is overturned, the same could happen for same-sex marriage bans in nearly 30 other states. We are joined from Utah by Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, one of three couples who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Nearly a thousand same-sex couples have tied the knot in Utah since a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage late last month. The ruling by District Judge Robert Shelby had been the first to overturn a state’s gay marriage ban since the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s same-sex marriage ban last June. Over the past few weeks, Utah courthouses have been the scenes of jubilationLGBT couples and the movement for marriage equality. These are two of the newlyweds.
DENNIS OWENS: You know, I don’t think it’ll change day-to-day life for us, obviously, but it is nice to know that there’s some formal recognition for the relationship we have created over the last 18 years. It’s just a nice way to sort of commemorate the relationship that we share.
PENNY KIRBY: And just to have this opportunity, in Utah, in our home state, because we could have gone to California, we could have gone to another state, but we’re Utahns, and that is huge—that’s huge. We’re pioneers. I mean, you know, it’s so awesome.
AMY GOODMAN: But those unions and many others in Utah are now in limbo. On Monday, the Supreme Court granted Utah’s request to block same-sex marriages while the ruling is appealed. The case now goes before a federal appeals court in Denver, but many expect it to find its way to the Supreme Court. A Supreme Court decision could have major repercussions across the country: If Utah’s ban is overturned, the same could happen for same-sex marriage bans in nearly 30 other states.
Joining us now from Utah are Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity. They are one of three couples who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Derek, let’s begin with you. Explain what’s just happened in Utah.
DEREK KITCHEN: Well, yesterday we had the Supreme Court put a stay on Robert—Judge Robert Shelby’s decision to allow same-sex marriage in our state. So, we have about 1,300 couples that are in what our attorney general called legal limbo. And then we have an untold number of gay couples in the state that cannot get married for the foreseeable future.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Moudi, you and Derek are not married. There was that opening where a thousand people did get married. Why did you decide not to at that time? And how does that allow you to be a plaintiff in this lawsuit?
MOUDI SBEITY: Well, when we first heard of the ruling, we were in our kitchen working, and so we were in no position to drop everything and rush down. We did have about three or four other days to go down and get a license, but we were not so much interested in that as in the fact that we had the opportunity to get married whenever we pleased. We wanted to do it more traditionally, if we can say, with a ceremony and our family and friends. And then the Supreme Court granted Utah its stay. But I don’t think that we will go on like this for a long time.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the mood in Utah right now in the gay, lesbian,LGBT community, Derek.
DEREK KITCHEN: You know, we’re in the process of building, I don’t know, kind of a compassionate coalition of workers here that are trying to get a huge public outreach campaign going to kind of educate those members of our society that may be on the fence or not so sure what it means to have gay marriage in Utah. There was a sense of jubilation for the 17 days that marriages were allowed in our state. As of yesterday, there was a somewhat sense of defeat, but I do believe that in the end this is going to just add momentum to our cause and really kind of just, you know, light the fire beneath everybody. So, it’s going to be good.
AMY GOODMAN: You have a Middle Eastern foods business, and you were giving out baba ghanoush to folks who were getting married?
MOUDI SBEITY: We were actually handing out hummus. But, yes—
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you for correcting the record.
MOUDI SBEITY: Yeah, OK. We do have a Middle Eastern food business in Salt Lake where we package and sell Middle Eastern food through grocery stores.
DEREK KITCHEN: But yeah, we—when people were waiting out in line on December 23rd, the Monday after the ruling, we went out and handed food to people waiting in line. And, you know, that day, there were people waiting blocks around—I think they married, you know, over 400 people just in Salt Lake County alone on that day. So, you know, this kind of underscores the mood among our community around the Christmas time. So, it’s been fun.
AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, a group called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association held what they called an uprising against same-sex marriage in their state. Speaker Richard Mack, a former sheriff from Graham County, Arizona, called on law enforcement officials to prevent gay marriages in Utah.
RICHARD MACK: The people of Utah have rights, too, not just the homosexuals. The homosexuals are shoving their agenda down our throats. The way you take back freedom in America is one county at a time. And the sheriffs need to defend the county clerks in saying, "No, we’re not going to issue marriage licenses to homosexuals."
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get your response, Derek, to this.
DEREK KITCHEN: I think there’s something to be said about freedom here. And this is—we have to consider our freedom, as well. We desire to be married. This is a civil marriage issue, so this has nothing to do with religions. We’re not—we’re not lining up at the Mormon church to get married. So I do believe that in the end, as far as liberty goes, we are on the winning side. And, you know, I do—it’s unfortunate that they—you know, that they are upset about this, but, you know, they can’t really take away rights from us that we deserve.
AMY GOODMAN: Moudi, I wanted to ask about the theory that is being used to challenge same-sex marriage in Utah, the idea that banning same-sex marriage encourages diversity in parenting, you know, having a man and a woman be the parents.
MOUDI SBEITY: Right. You know, there have been a lot of studies debunking that theory. I am of the belief that a child needs parents who can love and nurture them. I am not in a position to change anybody’s mind about what they believe. All that we ask is that they leave us to our own beliefs and our own family. There are hundreds of family types out there, and we cannot all go out there and make sure that they conform to our standards.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you plan to—how do you want to get married in Utah?
MOUDI SBEITY: Well, I think we were planning on a farmers’ market wedding, because we spend most of our time with the farmers’ market. And we were planning something for this coming October, but with the Supreme Court stay, that may not happen, although I do believe that our appeals process will be speedy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course—and you, Derek?
DEREK KITCHEN: I was just going to say, to add onto Moudi’s point, I do believe that we will be through the 10th Circuit in March. And depending on what they decide, that could be escalated up to the Supreme Court. And we are hoping for a ruling that could affect other states. So, you know, we’re in it for the long run. And if that means putting our marriage on hold, then that’s what that means.
AMY GOODMAN: And that stay appeal would be made to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the—who is assigned to oversight of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, is that right? Any words that you’d like to—
DEREK KITCHEN: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: If you could address her now, what would you have to say, Derek and Moudi?
DEREK KITCHEN: You know, we’re just here to respect the process. I understand that they didn’t really offer an opinion on the case, and that’s totally respectable. I think we will wait to make our case to the Supreme Court in full later on in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, I want to thank you very much for being with us, plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Utah’s anti-gay marriage law.
DEREK KITCHEN: Thank you.
MOUDI SBEITY: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. It is cold in many parts of the United States today, record freezing weather. It dropped more than 50 degrees here in New York in just a few hours. Recorded in Central Park, I think, was 5 degrees today, a record low in history. When we come back, we’ll look at how global warming could be linked to such record cold. Stay with us.