Last Utah holdout counties give in and allow gay unions

Chris Serrano (left) and Clifton Web kiss after marriage in Salt Lake City. (AP/Kim Raff)
Chris Serrano (left) and Clifton Web kiss after marriage in Salt Lake City. (AP/Kim Raff)

The last of the Utah counties that were holding out on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples reversed course Thursday and decided to hand out licenses to all eligible applicants.

Officials for the four holdouts — Box Elder, Utah, Piute and San Juan counties — told The Associated Press they made the decision to offer licenses to same-sex couples.

County clerks say they had little choice after an appeals court Tuesday declined to intervene and halt gay marriage. U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled last week that Utah’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, sending gay couples rushing to clerk offices for licenses.

The state plans to take its fight against gay marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court as early as Friday while it prepares an appeal of Shelby’s ruling to the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Ryan Bruckman, a spokesman for the Utah attorney general’s office.

Bruckman has said counties could be held in contempt of federal court if they refused to comply.

The holdouts said they decided to obey Shelby’s ruling despite reservations and questions about their legal liability. Utah makes it a misdemeanor for county clerks to sanction a same-sex marriage.

San Juan County Clerk Norman Johnson said “what finalized it for me” was Gov. Gary Herbert’s order to state agencies to comply with Shelby’s decision and change procedures for the delivery of state services. To that end, the Utah Department of Workforce Services is recognizing gay couples for food stamp and welfare benefits.

For Johnson, Herbert’s directive was the “final straw,” together with a refusal Tuesday by the Denver-based appeals court to stay Shelby’s decision pending an appeal from state lawyers.

Johnson said he felt like he was being dragged into granting marriage licenses against the wishes of voters who have kept him in office for 14 years.

“We have no choice,” Johnson said Thursday. “The scales have tipped. It’s not the way I want to see things go. But the law’s the law, and I accept it. It’s time.”

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Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press  All Rights Reserved.

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Court says ‘nada’ to stay on Utah gay marriage ruling

Gay marriage stays in place in Utah (Reuters)
Gay marriage stays in place in Utah (Reuters)

A federal appeals court on Sunday declined to stop officials in Utah from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples following a judge’s ruling last week that overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert asked for an emergency stay to prevent marriage licenses from being issued to same-sex couples after U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby on Friday ruled the ban unconstitutional. The parties are due back before Shelby on Monday, as the state begins to appeal his ruling.

The ruling, which made Utah the 18th state to allow same-sex nuptials, marked a major victory for gay rights activists in a conservative state where the Mormon Church wields considerable influence.

It also touched off a rush to the altar by gay couples, especially in Salt Lake City, where a festive atmosphere broke out in the county government building that played host to a string of impromptu weddings – including that of a state senator to his longtime partner.

Shelby found in the case brought by three gay couples that Utah’s state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman violated the rights of gay couples to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

“I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah,” Herbert said in a statement after the ruling.

Advocates of gay marriage have won repeated victories in recent years as a growing portion of the American electorate has taken a more favorable view of same-sex relationships. A year and a half ago, just six states and the District of Columbia recognized same-sex marriage.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a landmark victory for gay rights by forcing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in states where it is legal and paving the way for gay marriage in California.

On Thursday, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled to allow same-sex marriage across the state. In November, Hawaii and Illinois governors signed bills to legalize same-sex weddings.
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Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 Thomson Reuters  All Rights Reserved

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Anbody missing a raptor in Utah?

Houston Museum of Natural Science Visiting Curator of Paleontology Robert Bakker, Ph.D. works during the museum's paleontologist team field expedition to excavate a nearly complete Dimetrodon fossil at the Craddock Ranch on Dec. 11, 2010, in Seymour, Texas. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, James Nielsen)

A small, feathered raptor-like dinosaur thought to be 125 million years old has been discovered in eastern Utah, scientists announced Thursday.

The Geminiraptor suarezarum was bipedal and, like other raptors, had a large head. Most of the known raptors discovered in North America date to between 72 million and 75 million years ago, which makes the discovery the oldest reported specimen of its kind.

“They were fast, they were smart, they had big eyes and very dexterous hands,” said James Kirkland, a paleontologist with the Utah Geological Survey.

It was the eighth new species of dinosaurs discovered in Utah this year. Seven of those were found on federal land.

The G. suarezarum was discovered on federal land near Green River, an area about 180 miles southeast of Salt Lake City that has become notable for the number of new species discovered there. The College of Eastern Utah‘s Prehistoric Museum in Price is curating the bones and overseeing the excavation of the quarry where the bones were found.

The quarry was found seven years ago by identical twins Celina and Marina Suarez of San Antonio, Texas, for whom the new species was named. The 29-year-old paleontologists were helping Kirkland excavate a different quarry just over a mile away.

The quarry, now called “Suarez Sister’s Quarry,” has since yielded two dinosaur discoveries. Kirkland said that they are also studying bones that may prove to be a third new dinosaur.

“We both knew it would be significant,” Celina Suarez said. “But we never thought it would have this much.”

Having a dinosaur named after them is unbelievable, she said.

“As kids, we always kind of thought we might dig up a dinosaur in our backyard,” she said. “We didn’t know we would have to drive to Utah to do it.”

Kirkland said that honoring the sisters reflected not only their discovery of the quarry, but also their passion for paleontology.

“They are two whimsical pixies, always smiling,” Kirkland said. “They should have their own kids TV show.”

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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Tea Party split over Utah Senate race

Utah GOP Senate Candidate Mike Lee (AP)

Utah tea party supporters united in May to achieve one goal: defeat three-term U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett at the Republican state convention.

They succeeded in that, but settling on his successor has proved harder.

Illustrating how fractured the tea party movement is in Utah, one of the founders of the state’s tea party movement, David Kirkham, endorsed front-runner Tim Bridgewater on Monday. Attorney Mike Lee, 38, had already picked up the support of the California-based Tea Party Express, which is weighing in on primary races nationwide.

A lot is at stake. Whoever wins Tuesday’s GOP nomination should cruise to victory in November in heavily Republican Utah. A Democrat hasn’t won a U.S. Senate race here since 1970.

The marquee race Tuesday is the runoff for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in South Carolina. State lawmaker Nikki Haley has shrugged off accusations of infidelity and questions about her religion — an Indian-American, she was raised a Sikh and baptized a Methodist — to emerge as the odds-on favorite to become the state’s first female governor. Haley almost won the state primary outright with 49 percent of the vote, but because she didn’t get more than half she faces a runoff against Rep. Gresham Barrett.

Six-term Rep. Bob Inglis is struggling to hold onto his House seat in a GOP runoff against prosecutor Trey Gowdy. Elsewhere in the state, Tim Scott, a black state lawmaker, faces Paul Thurmond, the son of former segregationist Strom Thurmond, for the Republican nomination in a race that could provide a measure of both racial progress in the South and the GOP’s ability to diversify.

In North Carolina, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is locked in a close runoff against Cal Cunningham, the favorite of Democratic Party leaders in Washington, for the party nod for the Senate. The winner faces an uphill race against Republican Sen. Richard Burr.

Mississippi also has a runoff for the Republican nominee in a House race.

Back in Utah, Bridgewater and Lee advanced to the primary on promises to rein in federal spending. But without an incumbent in the race and little to distinguish their platforms, tea party supporters have struggled to coalesce around a single candidate.

“We were very happy when the results of the nominating convention came out, but the purpose of all our involvement isn’t necessarily to knock out the worst people, but to put in the best people who represent our values — and that’s Mike Lee,” said Bryan Shroyer, political director for the Tea Party Express.

Federal Election Commission reports show the group has spent $30,000 supporting Lee since Thursday, mostly on radio advertisements.

At the convention, Bridgewater won 57 percent of the vote — 3 percent more and he would have won the nomination outright. A Brigham Young University survey of convention delegates showed that 85 percent of delegates had a favorable impression of the tea party movement and 42 percent of delegates considered themselves active supporters of the movement.

Kirkham said he believes Lee and Bridgewater, 49, both qualify as tea party candidates and that either one would make a good senator, but he believes Bridgewater could get more done in Washington.

“They both go for the same principles. They pretty much believe the same things. It’s just a matter of preference, a matter of personality,” he said. “I think he’ll work hard to form coalitions, to make sure that Utah’s interests are taken care of back east.”

The race between Lee and Bridgewater, the founder of a consulting firm specializing in emerging markets, has largely focused on their professional backgrounds.

Lee contends that as a constitutional scholar who once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, he’s better suited to limit the role of government to what the country’s founders intended it to be. Bridgewater contends that his business background means he’s better suited to help create jobs.

Also on Tuesday, Democrats will choose their nominee in the 2nd Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson is seeking a sixth term, but is facing a challenge from his left by retired teacher Claudia Wright.

Wright won 45 percent of the vote at the Democratic convention, forcing Matheson into his first-ever Democratic primary. Matheson is being targeted by the left for voting against President Barack Obama’s health care bill. Matheson has since said he would oppose repealing the legislation.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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GOP Right-wingers dump Utah Sen. Bob Bennett

Utah Sen. Bob Bennett breaks down after defeat (AP)

Once-popular Sen. Bob Bennett fell victim to a growing national conservative movement with his stunning defeat at Utah’s GOP convention.

Delegates voted Saturday to bar the 76-year-old senator from seeking a fourth term, making him the first congressional incumbent to be ousted this year and demonstrates the challenges candidates face from the right in 2010.

Bennett was under fire for voting to bail out Wall Street, co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill mandating health insurance coverage and for aggressively pursuing earmarks.

“The political atmosphere obviously has been toxic, and it’s very clear that some of the votes that I have cast have added to the toxic environment,” Bennett told reporters Saturday, choking back tears.

“Looking back on them, with one or two very minor exceptions, I wouldn’t have cast any of them any differently, even if I had known at the time they were going to cost me my career.”

Bennett told The Associated Press he wouldn’t rule out a write-in candidacy. State law prohibits him from running as an independent.

“I do think I still have a lot of juice left in me,” Bennett said following his loss. “We’ll see what the future may bring.”

Bennett survived a first round of voting Saturday among roughly 3,500 delegates but was eliminated when he finished a distant third in the second round. He garnered just under 27 percent of the vote, while businessman Tim Bridgewater had 37 percent, and attorney Mike Lee got 36 percent. Lee and Bridgewater will face each other in a June 22 primary after a third round of voting in which neither got the 60 percent necessary to win outright.

“Don’t take a chance on a newcomer,” Bennett had pleaded in his brief speech to the delegates before the second round of voting began. “There’s too much at stake.”

Yet that urging, and Bennett’s endorsements by the National Rifle Association and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, did little to stave off anger toward the Washington establishment from delegates.

“The bailout bothers me. That in and of itself is unforgivable in my opinion,” said delegate Scott White, a 58-year-old general contractor from Taylorsville.

Bennett initially faced seven Republican opponents who said he wasn’t conservative enough for ultraconservative Utah. Lee, 38, and Bridgewater, 49, campaigned largely by saying they’re better suited to rein in government spending than Bennett.

“I will fight every day as your U.S. senator for limited government, to end the cradle-to-grave entitlement mentality, for a balanced budget, to protect our flag, our borders and our national security and for bills that can be read before they receive a final vote in congress,” Lee said in his convention speech.

Bennett’s defeat is the latest in a series of surprising political developments in a year in which the tea party movement has amassed growing power.

In January, then-little-known Republican Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate seat long held by the late Edward Kennedy. Several incumbents from both parties have opted not to seek re-election as they face difficult challenges, and GOP Florida Gov. Charlie Crist recently opted to run as an independent in his Senate bid rather than face defeat at the hands of his own party.

Other GOP candidates likely were eyeing Saturday’s results to see if it’s an indicator of things to come.

In Arizona, Sen. John McCain is in a tough primary fight against former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, a conservative talk-radio host. In Kentucky, Rand Paul, the son of libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, is gaining momentum in his challenge against the GOP establishment’s pick of Secretary of State Trey Grayson to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning.

In New Hampshire, former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte is battling three Republican challengers to fill the seat being vacated by Republican Judd Gregg.

Opposition to Bennett couldn’t be chalked up solely to anti-incumbency fervor.

Neither of Utah’s two Republican congressmen were at risk of losing their seats, and Republican Gov. Gary Herbert easily won his party’s nomination. Last week, voters in primaries in North Carolina and Ohio retained their incumbents, while those in Indiana turned to a former senator — Republican Dan Coats.

“I have authored bills to rein in the entitlement spending that now makes up two-thirds of the federal budget,” Bennett said. “I’ve already voted for a balanced budget amendment three times, and I will again while making certain that it won’t be turned into a tax increase for Democrats. Our tax burden is already too high.”

Some delegates, who tend to be more conservative than other Utah Republicans, were also upset he’s still in office after promising to serve only two terms when first elected in 1992.

“I think he’s lost touch,” said delegate Gary Crofts. “I’m excited to get a new person in there and fire things up a little.”

Romney introduced Bennett on Saturday — to a mix of cheers and boos.

“Today, he faces an uphill battle at this convention,” Romney acknowledged in his speech. “Some may disagree with a handful of his votes or simply want a new face. But with the sweep and arrogance of the liberal onslaught today in Washington, we need Bob Bennett’s skill and intellect and loyalty.”

In his 2004 campaign, Bennett ran no television commercials and won a third term in the general election with 69 percent of the vote.

The 2010 campaign was clearly different. He acknowledged he should have spent more time in Utah the past couple of years letting GOP activists get to know him, but didn’t imagine Republicans would be angry enough with Washington to target one of their own.

Recently, he has said part of his problem with delegates has been that he doesn’t go on conservative cable talk shows and offer angry sound bites. Instead, he said he likes to work on finding practical solutions.

Utah’s unique nominating process also played a critical role in his defeat. The 3,500 delegates wield enormous power and can decide the fate of entire elections in a state of nearly 3 million. The winner of the Republican race is all but guaranteed victory in November over Democratic nominee Sam Granato because Utah is so overwhelmingly GOP.

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Utah GOP leader admits hot tub romp with minor

Utah’s House majority leader said late Thursday he paid a woman $150,000 to keep silent about going nude “hot-tubbing” with her when she was minor a quarter century ago.

In a shocking statement on the House floor, Kevin Garn, 55, of Layton said he paid her to keep quiet about the incident during his unsuccessful U.S. congressional bid in 2002, but did not have sexual contact with her.

Garn said the woman, who he didn’t identify on the floor, has been calling news outlets and that he wanted to be open about the incident that occurred when he was 28 years old, before any stories appeared.

A woman identifying herself as Cheryl Maher told The Salt Lake Tribune that she and Garn were in a hot tub nude when she was 15 years old.

“This has just been a nightmare for me,” Maher said in a telephone interview with the newspaper from New Hampshire. “I just want to tell the truth because it’s part of the healing process for me.”

Garn told The Associated Press early Friday that Maher was the woman and that they were nude during a “spur of the moment” skinny dip. He said she worked for him in a warehouse.

“We sat there and that was it,” Garn said.

Maher, who now lives in New Hampshire, also contacted Garn’s hometown newspaper, the Ogden Standard-Examiner.

The Associated Press could not immediately reach Maher.

Garn’s legislative future in highly conservative Utah with its strong Mormon influence is uncertain, but GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said Herbert would not be asking for Garn’s resignation.

Garn spoke on last night of the legislative session as a tearful House Speaker Dave Clark and their colleagues looked on.

House members gave him thunderous applause for his honesty and embraced him. As majority leader, Garn was the House’s point man on a series of legislative ethics bills this year that were designed to restore the public’s faith in the Legislature after recent accusations of bribery.

“While this payment felt like extortion, I also felt like I should take her word that the money would help her heal. She agreed to keep this 25-year-old incident confidential. Now that this issue is coming up again, it is apparent to me that this payment was also a mistake,” Garn said.

“Although we did not have any sexual contact, it was still clearly inappropriate — and it was my fault,” Garn said.

“I apologize to you, my colleagues, for any shame this brings to the Utah State Legislature. I have tried my best to serve my constituents in a way that brings honor to them and makes this great state better than the way I found it. I hope to continue to do that,” Garn said.

The Utah Senate’s former majority leader, Sheldon Killpack, resigned earlier this year after being arrested for driving under the influence.

“Although Rep. Garn made some bad decisions, first 25 years ago and then again in 2002, they do not diminish the good work he has done for the state of Utah,” Welling said in a statement to the AP.

Filing for re-election begins Friday.

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