Utah’s ban on gay marriage was struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge in Salt Lake City one day after New Mexico’s high court issued a ruling allowing same-sex weddings.
U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby today blocked Utah from enforcing state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, ruling that “unsupported fears and speculations” about how such unions will affect opposite-sex marriages don’t justify its refusal to offer gay and lesbian citizens the same rights.
“Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law,” Shelby wrote in his opinion. “The state’s 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. Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.”
Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. Yesterday, New Mexico, the only state without a law specifically allowing or prohibiting gay marriage, was barred by its highest court from denying same-sex couples the right to marry.
Utah Attorney General John Swallow, who along with Governor Gary R. Herbert, is a named defendant in the case, said in a statement that the state will request from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver an emergency order blocking Shelby’s ruling.
Today’s ruling “that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right has never been established in any previous case” in the jurisdiction covered by the Denver appeals court, Swallow said in the statement. The appeals court in Denver covers Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.
The appeal is being sought to “support the constitutional amendment passed by the citizens of Utah” forbidding same-sex marriage, according to the statement.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples legally married in states that allowed it. The court also reinstated a federal judge’s order allowing gay marriages in California, ruling that opponents of gay marriage didn’t have legal standing to defend a voter-approved ban on same-sex weddings.
The case is Kitchen v. Herbert, 13-cv-00217, U.S. District Court, District of Utah (Salt Lake City).
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