SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Derek Kitchen, who sued the state of Utah and won the right to marry, is now pushing to have same-sex marriage codified into law.
Sen. Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, announced plans for a bill in the Utah State Legislature to formally remove the state's ban on same-sex marriage from the books. It is part of a nationwide movement in response to fears that a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court could ultimately overturn same-sex marriage, which it legalized in 2015.
"This bill updates Utah code to make sure LGBTQ families are protected, and that their marriages are protected," he said at a news conference Tuesday.
Sen. Kitchen appeared with Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage across the country.
"If we lose marriage equality at the federal level, through the Supreme Court, then it’s back to a states rights issue. There are so many states including Utah, my home state of Ohio, where if that would happen? Well, immediately those bans on same-sex marriage and recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages would and could go back into effect," Obergefell told FOX 13 News in an interview.
Utah's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was challenged by a handful of couples, including Kitchen and his then-partner Moudi Sbeity, who sued for the right to marry in the lawsuit Kitchen v. Herbert. A federal judge struck down Utah's ban in 2013 and same-sex couples across Utah rushed to their local county clerk's offices to marry. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges.
"This is certainly a calling of my lifetime to protect LGBTQ families, not only here in the state of Utah but to set the stage for what can be possible in other states around the country, including red states like Utah," Sen. Kitchen said.
The leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that threatens to overturn Roe v. Wade has sparked fears in the LGBTQ community that a more conservative block of justices could next take aim at marriage equality. Utah and 29 other states that still have a technical ban on same-sex marriage on the books.
"We need to protect the right to marry at the state level because we don’t know what will happen at the federal level," said Obergefell.
Obergefell was in Utah on Tuesday to also appear at a fundraiser for Sen. Kitchen's re-election campaign. On this issue even his Democratic primary opponent found agreement.
"We absolutely need to take seriously the impacts that beyond Roe v. Wade. Codifying gay marriage in Utah is something we obviously need to be doing. I’m worried about ‘Don’t Say Gay’, the continued attacks on transgender youth, as well as the threats to reproductive justice that are coming," said Dr. Jennifer Plumb, who will face Sen. Kitchen in the June 28 primary.
It is unclear how much support Sen. Kitchen's bill will have among the Republican super-majority Utah State Legislature. Utah has passed landmark LGBTQ bills in the past, including a historic nondiscrimination law and a repeal of a ban on discussing homosexuality in Utah schools that were sponsored by the Senate President. But this year, the legislature banned transgender children from playing sports consistent with their gender identity.
A recent Gallup poll shows support for same-sex marriage is at an all-time high of 71%. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a powerful presence on Utah's Capitol Hill, officially opposes same-sex marriage.)
"This is an opportunity for the legislature to show that the values of the community are reflected in state code," Sen. Kitchen told FOX 13 News. "We must update our code to reflect that. It’s an opportunity to protect families and I hope we do it right away."