Legal experts come to Y to debate same-sex marriage issue

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    By Mary Morley

    Fervent debate and public outcry would likely result if same-sex partnerships became legally equal to traditional marriages under Utah law.

    But this is exactly what is being proposed in the “ideal” family laws proposed by the American Law Institute.

    Legal scholars and professionals from around the nation will meet at BYU on Thursday through Saturday to discuss these new model laws.

    The three-day symposium, which is free for BYU students and faculty, will be a forum for legal professionals to debate the pros and cons of the ideals for law reform proposed by the American Law Institute.

    Lynn Wardle, a BYU law professor and one of the organizers of the symposium, said that because most law professors tend to be liberal in family law issues, the proposed model laws have been well received so far.

    “One of the purposes of the conference is to allow people who have some questions about this policy to raise these questions in a very credible fashion,” Wardle said.

    “Rather profound changes are being proposed,” he said.

    In the past, only people who were legally married received the financial, custodial and property rights afforded to married couples, Wardle said. The model laws urge that all domestic partnerships enjoy the same legal status, he said.

    If the model laws were accepted by the states, all functional parents, including same-sex partnerships, would be allowed to claim custody of children, he said.

    In more liberal states like California, the model laws might be incorporated into statutory law by the state legislature, Wardale said.

    But here in Utah, “the more radical provisions would probably be rejected, if not the whole thing,” he said.

    However, the model laws could still become law “through the back door” in Utah if judges incorporate the ideals from the model laws into their opinions, creating common law, he said.

    Ladd Johnson, 27, a third-year BYU law student from Sandy, said sometimes liberal ideas are heard more because their proponents are more outspoken.

    The BYU symposium hopes to get both perspectives of the proposed reforms, Johnson said.

    “It”s going to be very cutting edge, very current discussion,” he said.

    “We know there are a lot of students at BYU who would like to do what they can legally for the family.” Said Johnson, who is also co-founder of the Student Advocates of Traditional Family Policy.

    One of the best ways that BYU students can influence law is to be informed about what is happening and what the issues are, and then they can act on that knowledge, Johnson said.

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