A federal judge in Utah issued a decision Friday striking down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Obama appointee Judge Robert Shelby issued a 53-page decision December 20 in Kitchen v. Herbert, saying the state’s current definition of marriage is not permissible under the U.S. Constitution.
Noting that a court interferes with a law adopted by voters “only under exceptional circumstances,” Shelby said, “Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law.”
“The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry,” wrote Shelby, “and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason.”
Shelby’s order immediately enjoined the state from enforcing its ban, but Republican Governor Gary Herbert’s administration will almost certainly seek an emergency stay of the decision from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
It is, nevertheless, yet another surge of momentum in the direction of marriage equality in the United States, coming just one day after the New Mexico Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, said that state could no longer interpret its marriage laws to exclude same-sex couples. That decision made New Mexico the 17th state in the country, plus the District of Columbia, to provide marriage equality and putting more than one-third of states and one-third of the nation’s population in jurisdictions that treat same-sex couples the same as straight couples.
Gay rights advocates praised the decision.
“Today’s ruling by a federal district court in Utah, striking down Utah’s marriage ban, is a huge win, not only for same-sex couples in Utah, but for our entire country,” said Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “This is the first decision since the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act to overturn a state marriage ban under the federal constitution. To have such a historic ruling take place in Utah speaks volumes about our country’s trajectory from discrimination to acceptance and support for same-sex couples and their families. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the brave couples who brought this case, as well as to the superb attorney, Peggy Tomsic, who represented them.”
– reported by Lisa Keen