Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down on Friday by a federal judge who declared it unconstitutional. Ruling in a lawsuit brought by three gay couples, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby found the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman a violation of the rights of gay couples.
In the midst of the ruling, gay couples turned out in droves to receive marriage licenses. At least 100 couples have already wed in Salt Lake City, but the judge’s ruling ignited a fiery response from opponents. The state has moved to appeal the ruling and has asked for an emergency stay to prevent gay couples from securing marriage licenses in the meantime.
The response is unsurprising in the state, considered one of the most conservative in the nation and home to the Mormon Church, a leading force in maintaining bans on same-sex marriage.
Until the stay is granted – if it is granted at all – any county clerk who refuses to grant a marriage license to a gay couple would be violating a federal order, which could land them in contempt of court. Should the stay be granted, licenses which have already been granted would remain valid. Whether or not gay couples may continue to secure marriage licenses during the appeal in absence of a stay remains in question.
If Shelby’s decision is overturned, same-sex marriages which have already taken place would be invalid.
For the time being, Utah is the 18th state to allow gay marriage. The state follows in the footsteps of several others who have legalized same-sex marriage in recent months. Thursday saw a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling to allow same-sex marriage and both Hawaii and Illinois signed bills to legalize same-sex marriage last month.