Incoming Utah AG weighs in on gay marriage, polygamy

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Incoming Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said he is prepared to take Utah's battle for a traditional definition of marriage all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

"That would be my intention, when I am attorney general and sworn in, is to continue to defend the laws that were passed by the people of Utah," Reyes said in an interview Thursday with FOX 13.

"I think the voice of the people was clear. It's my job not to speculate about political or social issues, but legal issues. My job and our job as a team will be to continue to defend, legally, the state laws. Beyond that, I think the citizens, regardless of the side of the issue you might fall on, deserve to have the process taken and have final word from the Supreme Court on this issue."

The Utah Attorney General's Office confirmed it would not be filing an application for a stay with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for "a few days," to give the state's largest law firm time to hire outside legal counsel to guide it through the appeals process.

Four times now, federal courts have refused to halt same-sex marriages in Utah. Hundreds of couples have wed since U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby declared Amendment 3 unconstitutional.

The outside legal counsel would come at taxpayer expense. Attorney general's spokesman Ryan Bruckman told FOX 13 on Thursday they were coordinating with the governor to select that legal counsel. The Utah State Legislature would also have to be consulted, as they maintain budget authority.

Asked if the state was fighting an uphill battle when it comes to same-sex marriage, Reyes declined to comment.

"I'm not going to comment until I'm attorney general," he said. "But I'm confident in our team and I feel like we've got a lot of great pieces in place."

Same-sex marriage isn't the only pressing legal issue facing the Utah Attorney General. A week prior to the Amendment 3 ruling, another federal judge struck down part of Utah's bigamy law -- essentially decriminalizing polygamy in the state.

Reyes told FOX 13 he intends to fight that, too.

"Our intention is to appeal," he said. "When I am sworn in that again is my intention, to defend the laws that have been passed by the state of Utah."

Reyes will take the oath of office in the aftermath of a scandal that has rocked the executive branch. His predecessor, John Swallow (whom Reyes lost to in the Republican primary election), resigned amid criminal and legislative investigations.

"All of these cases, not just Amendment 3 but the (polygamist Kody) Brown case, they are all very important," Reyes told FOX 13. "But first and foremost, we need to have an office that is functioning optimally and transparently."

Reyes said he is putting a transition team in place, reviewing all aspects of the attorney general's office. He defended attorneys and staffers in the office as "talented and professional." But he also signaled that he might do some house cleaning.

"What I likely will do is ask leadership to voluntarily resign and reapply so we can have a more competitive process for interviewing, and find others who haven't had the opportunity to lead," he said.

Reyes said he would retain acting Utah Attorney General Brian Tarbet as his chief deputy over the civil division. He also vowed a more open and transparent office.

"Are there certain things we can change? Absolutely," he said. "Are there certain key things that can help us stay out of trouble? Truly. And those are the things we're going to address."


  • Trish Ramirez

    What a ridiculous waste of resources. The Supreme Court is going to say that Utah’s discriminatory laws are Unconstitutional and that the lower courts decisions are being upheld. We all know this. The Supreme Court made its stance on LGBT marriage clear last summer when it dealt with other high-profile cases. The AG is wasting tax payer money if he opts to take the same types of cases before the court. Honestly, I would be surprised if the Supreme Court even hears any of Utah’s piddling whiney-ness on the subject. Legislating hateful laws against LGBT citizens of this nation is a thing of past, as has been demonstrated time and again by high court rulings….

  • Harshan

    Judge Shelby issued his decision early, surprising everyone. The governor and the acting AG were taken by surprise. They scrambled like Keystone Kops to apply for a stay and did it wrong—not once, but twice—so maybe they also didn’t know that the Supreme Court has its own bar. I’m guessing that the acting AG and the next AG can’t represent the state before the Supreme Court because they aren’t members of its bar. That would explain the need for outside counsel who is qualified to do that. By the time they find outside counsel and figure out how to apply for a stay with the Supreme Court (which includes a criterion that is in this case nearly impossible to prove, they won’t be able to characterize the stay as an emergency with a straight face.

    They have 30 days from the circuit court’s decision to request a stay from the Supreme Court, and their request must show, in addition to other things, how the circuit court judge is guilty of misconduct or misapplied the law. That is very difficult to do. They won’t get a stay.

    In any event, all this reveals that they were not prepared and do not understand our legal system. In American, individual rights trump states rights and that even though the majority rules, it cannot do so at the expense of the minority’s civil rights.

    They are definitely going to lose in the end, but if they continue to fight this battle with one foot in a wastebasket while mistaking the closet for the exit, it will hasten their loss.

  • Grallon

    I just hope the Supreme Court grants a stay on this atrocity and allows the great state of Utah to go back to traditional marriage. This judge Shelby should have never been allowed to make s ruling in this.

    • Trish Ramirez

      The citizens of “the GREAT State of Utah” cannot vote away the rights of their neighbors. How would you feel if the majority voted away the rights of Mormons to marry each other, or put a cap on the number of children families could legally produce or outlawed multicultural marriages or the rights of religious people of assemble?? People would be up in arms because their human rights were being taken away – and rightly so. The illegal and Unconstitutional amendment prohibiting the LGBT community from marrying was no different, and thus had to be abolished. It will NEVER be found to be Constitutional – the Supreme Court has made its position on this matter clearly known.

  • Pamela Ann Berry

    Using that logic, the majority of people voted for Swallow and that was the wrong choice. How can he assume that the majority still feels the sawn when it’s clear people start seeing what’s right and wrong as time goes by?

  • Dru Gilbert

    Instead of fighting with the US Supreme Court, why don’t we change these outdated Utah laws and move into the 21st century. Utah has become a melting pot… Let’s accept it and embrace our differences

  • Rollo Tomasi

    An incredible waste of money. The Supreme Court will NOT grant a stay, especially after the 10th Circuit has denied a stay THREE times and the district court at least once. Utah should put its resources (i.e., OUR money) into the regular appeal process. The Guv has to calm down and think this out. Right now he looks as if he has no idea what he’s doing.

  • little boy blue

    Federal law should trump State law. Just because we live in Utah that does not mean we have to agree with the majority of Utah. It’s The United States of America not The United States of Utah.

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