Incoming Utah AG weighs in on gay marriage, polygamy

Posted at 4:30 PM, Dec 26, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-27 00:28:48-05

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."