Moral Low Ground

US Government

Gay Couples Wed in Utah After Federal Judge Overturns Ban

Elated same-sex couples are being granted marriage licenses in Utah’s capital and largest city after a federal judge ruled that the state’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports Judge Robert J. Shelby of the United States District Court ordered Utah officials to immediately cease enforcing the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

“The court holds that Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law,” wrote Shelby, who was appointed by President Obama. “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.”

Judge Shelby’s ruling sent shock waves through Utah, one of the most conservative states in the nation and home of the Mormon Church, which has spearheaded efforts to outlaw gay marriage.

In Salt Lake City, the state’s capital and largest city, several hundred people rushed to the county clerk’s office to get marriage licenses. A pastor from the First Baptist Church was on hand to conduct wedding ceremonies.

“We’re pretty slammed right now,” Salt Lake County chief deputy clerk Dahnelle Burton-Lee told the New York Times. “And they keep walking in the door.”

Same-sex couples long denied equality were jubilant.

“It feels unreal,” Moudi Sbeity, a defendant in the case along with his partner Derek L. Kitchen, told the Tribune. “I’m just very thrilled that Derek and I will be able to get married soon, if all goes well and the state doesn’t appeal.”

The state’s Republican governor hinted that the state may indeed pursue legal action against the ruling.

“I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement. “I am working with my legal counsel and the acting attorney general to determine the best course to defend traditional marriage within the borders of Utah.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, issued a statement reiterating its opposition to marriage equality. The church said it “has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with respect.”

“We continue to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state constitution that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and we are hopeful that this view will be upheld by a higher court.”

Judge Shelby’s ruling comes a day after the state supreme court in neighboring New Mexico unanimously ruled that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples was a violation of their constitutional rights.

UPDATE: the Utah attorney general’s office has announced it will repeal the ruling.

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