SALT LAKE CITY — Advocates for same-sex marriage predicted Thursday that in five years, "we will bring marriage equality to all 50 of our states."
"Yes, right here in the state of Utah," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, speaking at a press conference at the Utah Pride Center.
"We won't stop fighting until every barrier falls, until full equality reaches every single person in every corner of this great country," Griffin said.
Griffin's appearance was part of a whirlwind journey Wednesday and Thursday. The Arkansas native was in the Supreme Court gallery when the court's decisions on two same-sex marriage cases were announced. He then flew cross-country to spend time in Los Angeles, the center of the Proposition 8 struggle.
"This morning I wanted to wake up and go to a state that although it was able to celebrate, it didn't actually feel the reach of justice by that ruling," Griffin said of his decision to visit Utah.
The high court struck down part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman for purposes of federal law. The court declined to rule on California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage as one man and one woman. The court's decision leaves in effect a lower court ruling, which allows same-sex unions.
Bruce Bastian, co-founder of WordPerfect, who Griffin said substantially funded the legal fight all the way to the Supreme Court, said the court's rulings resulted in a jumble of emotions.
"It's been a wild 24 hours. My emotions have gone from tears, to jumping up and down to really serious contemplation of what is best to do next," he said.
Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, said the Supreme Court decisions were cause for celebration as well as a call to action. Ninety-three million Americans "live in jurisdictions where they are seen as equals in the eyes of the law," she said.
But elsewhere, people are not extended the same legal protections because of patchwork of state laws. Balken said the fight for equality extends to issues of adoption, fair housing and fair employment practices. The nation cannot allow any American "to live as a second-class citizen based on the state they live in."
Lynn Wardle, professor of law at Brigham Young University who specializes in family law, said in an interview Thursday afternoon that the broad language of the majority opinion on DOMA is "a very big shot in the arm for the pro same-sex movement. It allows them to pat one another on the back and say 'Hurrah, the morality of our cause is recognized, the immorality of those opposed is now exposed. Victory is certain to come.'″
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the majority opinion, used "broad language to support a very narrow, limited holding and judgement." However, Wardle predicts the majority opinion will be used to stimulate more litigation.
"He's (Kennedy) setting in motion or contributing to a process that's ongoing, that's not going to end any time soon," he said.
A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in March to challege the constitutionality of Utah's voter-approved Amendment 3 was purposely put on hold by a federal judge awaiting the Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and California's Proposition 8.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three same-sex couples, claims the state constitutional amendment violates the federal due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Amendment 3, approved by Utah voters in 2004 on a vote of 66 percent to 34 percent, defined marriage in Utah as a union between a man and a woman only.
"This is the state to have that fight. If we can do it here, where can we not do it?" said Brett Tolman, a former U.S. Attorney for Utah now in private practice. Tolman does not represent the Utah couples challenging Amendment 3.
He and Paul Burke, both attorneys with the Salt Lake law firm Ray, Quinney and Nebeker, led a team of attorneys that submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Utah Pride Center.
Contributing: Dennis Romboy