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Legislators defend traditional marriage

But 219 lawyers come out against Amendment 3

PROVO — Utah Valley legislators risked little Friday by endorsing the proposed state constitutional amendment to formalize a ban on gay marriage.

But the political action committee they formed is a bonanza for supporters of Amendment 3, raising $25,000 in 10 days. All the other Amendment 3 supporters and groups combined had raised just $16,000 as of Sept. 15, the end of the last reporting period.

The money from the Utah County Legislative PAC will be spent on newspaper ads in the county during the three days prior to the Nov. 2 election, said state Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

Opponents to the amendment also got a boost this week, however. More than 200 Utah attorneys who oppose the amendment announced they have purchased ads to run in Salt Lake-based newspapers on Tuesday.

The attorneys oppose the wording of the second sentence of the amendment, said Dan Berman, a Salt Lake City attorney who organized Utah Lawyers for Sound Constitutional Amendments.

The amendment reads, "Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman. No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect."

The Utah County Republican delegation attacked the idea that the second sentence "goes too far" and defended the amendment's wording, which they voted for during the 2004 legislative session.

One representative, Jim Ferrin, R-Orem, also invoked deity in support of the gay-marriage ban at a news conference, but their strong stance is unlikely to hurt any of the 12 Republican incumbents running for re-election in the overwhelmingly conservative county or the four Republicans running for vacant seats.

"They have nothing to lose," Brigham Young University political science professor Quin Monson said. "There are very little political costs and probably some political gains.

"The heaviest support for Amendment 3 is likely to come from Utah County. It's a good strategy to focus on Utah County because they get more bang for their buck."

Ferrin read a prepared statement at the press conference with his colleagues lined up behind him.

"We believe that marriage, as defined in law, is properly the legal union of a man and a woman. It is the natural order. It is the solid foundation for raising children. It is the fundamental building block of society. It is what God ordained. And so it has been throughout the history of humankind."

The legislators contributed $10,000 themselves, electing "to invest personal and campaign funds" in promoting their message.

The second part of the proposed amendment has been hotly contested. Monson said opponents have effectively spent their far larger war chest on one message: "No on 3, it goes too far."

"They don't say anything else, which is a great strategy for them," Monson said. "They want to raise doubts and make people against gay marriage vote against this."

Berman said he organized the attorneys' group, which swelled to 219 members on Friday, because the second sentence is "unconstitutionally vague."

The group does not take a position on the first sentence.

Berman said he's particularly troubled by the legal effect of the "substantially equivalent" wording, which he says could prevent even basic legal protections from being granted to unmarried couples.

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said the second part of the amendment is essential to the first and that the issue is about whether Utah will be forced to accept gay marriages or unions solemnized in other states under the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"Constitutional vagueness is a common war cry whenever we engage in constitutional debate. It is not necessarily a substantive legal argument that prevails at the end of the day," said Valentine, an attorney who vetted the amendment's wording. "One of the reasons why we wanted to let the people have a voice in this debate is the need to have a showing of a strong public policy protecting traditional marriage.

"That is the test the court uses when balancing the full faith and credit clause."

Another issue is whether whether gay couples could still be granted some rights if the amendment passed, as gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. has proposed.

"I believe that we can provide for contractual rights between parties without having to recognize it as a domestic or civil union or marriage," Valentine said.

Amendment 3 enjoyed strong support in the latest Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll, conducted at the start of the month. The poll showed 64 percent of Utahns planned to vote in favor of Amendment 3.

It also showed opponents have made some headway in attacking the second sentence.

While 77 percent of Utahns said they supported the first sentence, only 57 percent supported the second.


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com