Utah, one of the most conservative states on the issue of gay rights, found itself the latest front in the battle over same-sex marriage when a federal judge Friday struck down its ban on such unions. Officials said they would seek an emergency stay while they appealed the ruling.
The Salt Lake County clerks office started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker began officiating at the states first gay weddings, his spokesman said.
Becker is conducting as many marriages as he can in this window of time, Art Raymond said. There is a variety of responses going on in Utah, but the mayor, who is very progressive, is all about equal access and equal rights.
Deputy County Clerk Dahnelle Burton-Lee said the district attorney had authorized her office to begin issuing the licenses, but she didnt know how many had been given out. It was unknown whether any marriages would take place before the appeals court acted on the states request for a stay.
We are asking for a stay and will appeal the ruling, said Ryan Bruckman, a spokesman for the state attorney generals office. He said the states lawyers were drafting the papers and would file them as quickly as possible.
The ruling came earlier than expected. U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby had set a Jan. 7 deadline to issue his opinion but handed down his decision Friday, 16 days after he heard arguments from lawyers representing three same-sex couples.
In his 53-page ruling, Shelby held that Utahs ban, passed by voters in 2004, violates the federal right of gay and lesbian couples to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
The states current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason, Shelby wrote. Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.
Attorneys for the state argued that Utahs law promotes the states interest in responsible procreation and the optimal mode of child-rearing.
But Shelby said the state failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way.
In the absence of such evidence, the states unsupported fears and speculations are insufficient to justify the states refusal to dignify the family relationships of its gay and lesbian citizens, Shelby wrote.