Note: See update below story.-VP
Conservative Mormon blogger and failed 2012 Utah senate Constitution Party candidate Trestin Meacham says he hasn’t eaten since Dec. 20 and will continue his hunger strike until Utah nullifies a federal judge’s overturning of the state ban on gay marriage passed in 2004. Meacham, who says he has lost 25 pounds, is reportedly subsisting on water and “an occasional vitamin,” according to local TV news station Utah4, and says he rejects U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby’s decision that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
“This has nothing to do with hatred of a group of people,” Meacham wrote in his blog, despite having referred to same-sex marriage as “evil” on his Facebook page. “I have friends and relatives who practice a homosexual lifestyle and I treat them with the same respect and kindness that I would anyone. This is about religious freedom, and an out-of-control federal government.”
In addition to “out-of-control,” Meacham calls Shelby’s ruling that the ban violates gay and lesbian couples’ rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment “tyrannical.”
Shelby wrote in his opinion, “The Constitution protects the Plaintiffs’ [three gay couples who wanted the state of Utah to recognize their marriages] fundamental rights, which include the right to marry and the right to have that marriage recognized by their government.”
The judge also contended that Utah failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way.
Although he was recommended for a federal judgeship by Republican Utah Senator Orrin G. Hatch and initially praised by prominent members of the Tea Party, conservatives such as Meacham now dismiss Shelby as an “activist” uninterested in upholding the law, The New York Times reported in December.
According to Meacham, Utah can exercise its right to nullify a federal law it considers unconstitutional by simply choosing not to follow it: “They can end this tomorrow. They don’t have to go through legal court battles and waste our money. They can end it tomorrow through nullification,” Meacham said in his interview with Utah4.
Even a member of the board of the libertarian Cato Institute, however, says that although states have the right to nullify certain federal laws, it will still have to be decided in court, not merely flouted in religious zealoty defiance.
And many legal experts say that nullification doesn’t apply to the Utah decision because states are required to recognize federal laws upholding citizens’ constitutional rights.
“When individual personal liberties are at stake the state can’t infringe on that, even if it’s the will of the people,” attorney Greg Skordas told Utah4.
Conservatives hoping to erode same-sex marriage legality in other states are watching Utah closely, naturally. But the case could also set a precedent in the growing number of nullification challenges across the country. The justification of some bills intending to nullify federal laws, such as South Carolina’s effort to ban enforcement of some parts of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, reference the Bill of Rights’ 10th Amendment, which specifies that “powers not regulated to the United States by the Constitution are reserved for the states.” But because U.S. District Judge Shelby specifically cited constitutionality in his decision – which most legal experts say trumps state law – the efforts of Utah Governor Gary Hubert and Meacham to reinstate the ban are likely to fail.
**UPDATE**: In what a reporter for The New York Times called a “terse order from the full court,”the Supreme Court just blocked any more same-sex marriage licenses from being issued in Utah while state officials appeal Judge Shelby’s decision allowing such unions. No reason or opinion has been given for the stay.