Federal appeals court rules Utah same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional

Photo: U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Photo: U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional in a ruling handed down Wednesday.

The 2-1 decision from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is the first federal appeals court ruling since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act one year ago tomorrow.

“May a State of the Union constitutionally deny a citizen the benefit or protection of the laws of the State based solely upon the sex of the person that citizen chooses to marry?” wrote Judge Carlos Lucero for the majority. “Having heard and carefully considered the argument of the litigants, we conclude that, consistent with the United States Constitution, the State of Utah may not do so. We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children, and enjoy the full protection of a state’s marital laws. A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union. For the reasons stated in this opinion, we affirm.”

The court also dismissed arguments from the state that allowing same-sex marriage would negatively impact opposite-sex couples. “We emphatically agree with the numerous cases decided since Windsor that it is wholly illogical to believe that state recognition of the love and commitment between same-sex couples will alter the most intimate and personal decisions of opposite-sex couples,” Lucero wrote.

On December 20 U.S District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby found Utah’s same-sex marriage ban in violation of the U.S. Constitution, leading more than 1,000 same-sex couples to marry before the U.S. Supreme Court interjected and halted marriages pending appeal. The appeals court heard oral arguments in the case on April 10.

The appeals court stayed their decision, so same-sex marriages will not begin in Utah. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the state now has the option to request an en banc appeal before the full bench of the 10th Circuit. If that request is denied, the state can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  They may also bypass an en banc session and appeal directly to the Supreme Court. The circuit court is also expected to rule in the appeal of a case striking down Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban.

According to Peggy Tomsic, the attorney who presented oral arguments on behalf of the plaintiffs from the law firm Magleby & Greenwood, today’s decision “affirms the fundamental principles of equality and fairness and the common humanity of gay and lesbian people.”

“As the Court recognized, these families are part of Utah’s community, and equal protection requires that they be given the same legal protections and respect as other families in this state,” Tosmic said in a statement. “The Court’s ruling is a victory not only for the courageous couples who brought this case, but for our entire state and every state within the Tenth Circuit.”   

Since the Windsor decision, Federal courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality in Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Oregon, Wisconsin and earlier today in Indiana. State courts in Arkansas, New Jersey and New Mexico have also sided with marriage equality. At least one of those cases is likely destined for the U.S. Supreme Court. There are currently 19 states, plus D.C., that allow same-sex marriage and of those states that do not, all are facing legal challenges to their respective same-sex marriage bans.

10th Circuit Utah Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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