Utah governor Gary Herbert says public officials who refuse to defend their states' bans on same-sex marriage are shirking their duty and courting anarchy.
"For elected officials, governors, and attorneys general, to say pick and choose which laws they will enforce, I think, is a tragedy and the next step toward anarchy," Herbert said Thursday at his monthly press conference, televised by public TV station KUED.
Herbert was referring to decisions in states such as Oregon and Pennsylvania, where governors and attorneys general have either not defended marriage bans in court at all or declined to appeal judicial decisions striking them down. Both states saw their bans voided by federal judges this week.
"I find it very disappointing," he said of these officials' actions. "Voices here in our community, media and others, ought to, in fact, call them on the carpet and say, 'You have a responsibility to defend the law that's been put on the books by the people.'"
Utah's ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal court in December, but the state is appealing the ruling. "My job is to represent the people of Utah and follow the law on the books," Herbert said. "It's very clear to me. I've sworn allegiance to the constitution of Utah and the constitution of the United States."
Utah voters approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage in 2004. However, some state laws, even state constitutional amendments, may violate the U.S. Constitution, and the latter document is the final word on the matter, law professor and Equality Utah board member Clifford Rosky pointed out.
"I understand that the governor and attorney general think that [Utah's] Amendment 3 [banning same-sex marriage] is constitutional, but there is increasing evidence across the United States that their view is incorrect," Rosky told The Salt Lake Tribune. "Every single judge in the country who has been asked the question in the past year has held that state laws against same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and that everyone has the right to marry in this country."
A federal appeals court heard Utah's appeal of the marriage ruling in April but has yet to issue a decision. Meanwhile, this week a federal judge ordered Utah to recognize the marriages that took place in the brief period in December and January before a stay was placed on the original ruling, but gave the state time to appeal that order. Herbert said he and Utah attorney general Sean Reyes will discuss how to proceed.
Also at the press conference, Herbert was asked if he thinks sexual orientation is innate or a matter of choice; at first he said it was a choice but then he backtracked. "I think it's unclear. I expect there may be different gradations," he said. "Clearly the actions involved in sexual activity ultimately end up being choices. What your attraction may be is something else, but how you act upon those impulses is a choice. But that's not for me to make that decision."
Watch video of the event below.