SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah state attorneys told a federal appeals court late Friday that the state's same-sex marriage ban should be upheld because such matters are best left to states to resolve.
Attorneys for the state said any ruling on the matter would be an anti-democratic "unprincipled judicial wrecking ball" hurtling toward an important area of state authority.
While supporters of same-sex marriage have framed the debate as a civil rights issue, the state called the matter a "political quandary" in its 120-page reply brief.
The state's brief is the last scheduled court filing before the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals holds a hearing on the case on April 10. A hearing on Oklahoma's ban is set for April 17.
The appeals court must decide if it agrees with federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma who overturned gay marriage bans passed by voters in each state in 2004. The federal judges ruled that the bans violate gay and lesbian couples' rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment.
The state's latest argument came in response to a brief last month from attorneys for three Utah same-sex couples who said the ban has "cemented discrimination" in the state against gays and their children.
The attorneys said the ban demeans and stigmatizes gay and lesbian couples, denying them the ability to publicly formalize their commitment to each other and excluding them from a host of benefits granted to opposite-sex couples that include "virtually every aspect of life, from the mundane to the profound."
In the state's opening brief, its attorneys contended that the 2004 ban should stand because the optimal environment for raising children is with a mother and father.
In the reply filed Friday, the state said overturning the ban would cement in place "the corrosive principle that moms and dads are interchangeable and, ultimately, irrelevant to children."
More than 50 groups, organizations and coalitions have weighed in on gay marriage cases in Utah and Oklahoma with supporting court briefs -- giving the appeals court thousands of pages of arguments to consider.
The arguments, which were about 45 pages on average, have been split nearly evenly on both sides.
Groups urging the court to make gay marriage legal in the two states included a conglomerate of 46 companies, including Starbucks, Pfizer, eBay, Facebook, Google and Levi Strauss, that argued gay marriage bans are bad for business, hampering their ability to recruit and retain top talent.
The opposite side of the argument has included a religious coalition led by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that argued unions between a man and a woman are best for children, families and society.
There have been groups of states weighing in on both sides, with attorneys general from 11 states, including Arizona, Colorado and Idaho, urging the court to uphold the same-sex-marriage bans. On the other side, attorneys general from 16 states, including Massachusetts, California and Washington, asked the court to legalize gay marriage.
Currently, gay marriage is legal in Washington, D.C., and 17 states.
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier