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Utah’s only openly gay legislator will push for Utah to codify marriage equality

Sen. Derek Kitchen, Utah State Capitol steps w/ marriage code and Pride Flag, June 7, 2022
Ivana Martinez
Sen. Derek Kitchen holds up the state statute he wants to change on the steps of the Utah State Capitol, June 7, 2022. It currently only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman.

Democratic Sen. Derek Kitchen was in his early 20s when he and his partner wanted to get married. But as a same-gender couple living in Utah, they couldn’t. So, they filed a lawsuit against the state.

“Everybody told me, ‘Don't do it, Derek,’” Kitchen recalled. “Don't do it. You risk setting the movement back 10 years. Marriage equality will never come to Utah.”

It did pay off and the door to same-sex marriage in the state was opened eight years ago.

However, in statute, Utah still recognizes marriage as between only a man and a woman.

Standing in front of a Pride Flag on the steps of the Utah Capitol Tuesday, Kitchen said that has to change.

“We will not go back. We have come too far to go back. We must defend our progress. We must be proactive by removing this exclusionary language from Utah code. We are legislating with our eyes wide open because our history tells us that we have to.”

Kitchen is proposing legislation to codify marriage equality in an attempt to “make sure that couples who are currently married stay married no matter what happens,” he said.

There’s a sense of urgency around this issue because of the recently leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court, which signals the court is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Jim Obergefell was the plaintiff in the 2015 landmark Supreme Court decision that allowed same-sex marriage nationwide. He joined Kitchen in saying the draft Roe opinion has him worried about other fundamental rights, like marriage equality.

“We need to protect the right to marry at the state level because we don't know what will happen at the federal level from the Supreme Court,” Obergefell said. “We deserve to be treated equally.”

Changing state code is just one part of the equation. There’s also a 2004 voter-approved amendment in Utah’s Constitution that clearly states, “Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman.”

“That constitutional amendment needs to be removed,” Kitchen acknowledged. “In addition to that, we need to address all statutes throughout state code that specify that the state will only acknowledge opposite-sex couples because what that does is it leaves same-sex couples in a vulnerable position.”

For now, Kitchen said he believes he can pass his bill through the Legislature’s Republican supermajority next year because it appeals to their belief in families.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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