Judge allows gay marriage in Utah to continue
By BRADY McCOMBS
and PAUL FOY
the associated press | December 24,2013
A crowd gathers at the Salt Lake County clerk’s office Monday. On Friday, Federal Judge Robert Shelby ruled that Utah’s Amendment 3, which bans same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional.
SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge on Monday allowed gay marriage to continue in Utah, rejecting a request to put same-sex weddings on hold as the state appeals a decision that has sent couples flocking to county clerk offices for marriage licenses.
Judge Robert J. Shelby overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage Friday, ruling the voter-approved measure is a violation of gay couples’ constitutional rights. The state then asked him to put a stop to the weddings, but he rejected the request.
Lawyers for the state quickly filed a request with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put gay marriage on hold.
More than 200 gay couples have obtained marriage licenses since Friday in Utah’s most populous county. On Monday, an estimated 100 licenses were issued in other counties, while some clerks shut their doors as they awaited Shelby’s decision.
Couples began lining up Sunday night at the Salt Lake County clerk’s office as they hoped to get licenses amid the uncertainty of the pending ruling. They anxiously eyed their cellphones for news on the decision, and a loud cheer erupted once word spread that Shelby wouldn’t be blocking weddings.
Shelby’s decision to overturn Utah’s same-sex marriage ban has drawn attention given the state’s long-standing opposition to gay marriage and its position as headquarters for the Mormon church. The gay weddings in Salt Lake City were taking place about 3 miles from church headquarters.
For now, a state considered one of the nation’s most conservative has become the 18th to allow same-sex couples to legally wed, joining the likes of California and New York.
It’s estimated that nearly two-thirds of Utah’s 2.8 million residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mormons dominate the state’s legal and political circles.
The Mormon church was one of the leading forces behind California’s short-lived ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, which voters approved in 2008. The church said Friday it stands by its support for “traditional marriage,” and it hopes a higher court validates its belief that marriage is between a man and woman.
In court Monday, Utah lawyer Philip Lott repeated the words “chaotic situation” to describe what has been happening in Utah since clerks started allowing gay weddings. He urged the judge to “take a more orderly approach than the current frenzy.”
“Utah should be allowed to follow its Democratically chosen definition of marriage,” he said of the 2004 gay marriage ban.
Lott said the state was disappointed with Shelby’s latest ruling and will continue its legal battle.
Peggy Tomsic, the lawyer for the same-sex couples who brought the case, called gay marriage the civil rights movement of this generation and said it was the new law of the land in Utah.
“The cloud of confusion that the state talks about is only their minds,” she said.
Tomsic said she was relieved that Shelby stuck to his ruling and avoided being pressured by a moral or political majority in the state.