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Federal judge strikes down Utah's same-sex marriage ban

By Brady McCombs

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:57 p.m. HST, Dec 20, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY >> A federal judge struck down Utah's same-sex marriage ban today in a decision that brings a nationwide shift toward allowing gay marriage to a conservative state where the Mormon church has long been against it.

The Salt Lake County clerk's office started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Deputy Clerk Dahnelle Burton-Lee said the district attorney authorized her office to begin issuing the licenses but she couldn't immediately say how many have been issued so far.

Just hours earlier, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby issued a 53-page ruling saying Utah's law passed by voters in 2004 violates gay and lesbian couples' rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

Shelby said the state failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way.

"In the absence of such evidence, the State's unsupported fears and speculations are insufficient to justify the State's refusal to dignify the family relationships of its gay and lesbian citizens," Shelby wrote.

The Utah attorney general's office said it would issue a statement on the ruling later.

The ruling comes the same week New Mexico's highest court legalized gay marriage after declaring it unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A new law passed in Hawaii last month now allows gay couples to marry there.

During a nearly four-hour hearing earlier this month in Salt Lake City, attorneys for the state argued that Utah's law promotes the state's interest in "responsible procreation" and the "optimal mode of child-rearing." They also asserted it's not the courts' role to determine how a state defines marriage, and that the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last summer that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act doesn't give same-sex couples the universal right to marry.

Utah's lawsuit was brought by three gay and lesbian couples. One of the couples was legally married in Iowa and just wants that license recognized in Utah.

One of those couples, Moudi Sbeity and Derek Kitchen, were roasting eggplants for a farmer's market tomorrow when their lawyer, Peggy Tomsic, called them with the big news.

"We had a positive feeling after the hearing on Dec. 4, but it's still a surprise to hear it," Sbeity said. "We're excited and happy and hopeful to see what happens what next."

The couple, which owns a company that makes Middle Eastern food spreads and sells them to supermarkets, won't be getting married right away. They want to see if the state appeals.

Another of the couples, Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, said they were elated.

"I'm just kind of in shock. My brother called and said, 'When are you getting married?" said Wood, 58, an English professor Utah Valley University.

Many similar challenges to same-sex marriage bans are pending in other states, but the Utah case has been closely watched because of the state's history of staunch opposition to gay marriage as the home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The church said in a statement Friday that it stands by its support for "traditional marriage."

"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 validated by a higher court," the church said.

Tomsic applauded Shelby's courage in making the ruling but warned that the legal fight is not over, saying she expects the state to take the case to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

During this month's hearing, Tomsic contended marriage is a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution. She said the case embodies the civil rights movement of our time, saying discrimination has gone on long enough.

She said Utah's law, which passed with two-thirds of the vote, is "based on prejudice and bias that is religiously grounded in this state."

In the ruling, Shelby wrote that the right to marry is a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution.

"These rights would be meaningless if the Constitution did not also prevent the government from interfering with the intensely personal choices an individual makes when that person decides to make a solemn commitment to another human being," Shelby wrote.


Associated Press writer Paul Foy contributed to this report.

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kapoleitalkstory wrote:
What a GREAT day AGAIN! New Mexico yesterday and now today Utah! This has been an amazing year for justice and equality!
on December 20,2013 | 11:01AM
Kahu Matu wrote:
You are noting the decline of western civilization through a few who have money and power. Your view of justice and equality is in reality suppression and subordination of anyone who disagrees.
on December 20,2013 | 11:40AM
kapoleitalkstory wrote:
You are confusing me with Koch brothers. The real decline is those that call themselves christians and NEVER help the poor or the needy. The LGBT community does not have money like the straight community or power. So get a life and an education.
on December 20,2013 | 11:47AM
Kahu Matu wrote:
The GLBT community has learned how to efficiently manipulate the courts and political system. While Christian groups are putting money into helping the poor, providing food to the hungry, health care to the needy, education to the children, and taking loving others, those who care only for themselves use their riches and resources to attack, defame, and undermine the efforts of Christians. So get a life and an education, please.
on December 20,2013 | 11:56AM
kapoleitalkstory wrote:
Really if the churches helped the poor and the needy there would be no needy and very less poor people. You really need to get over your hang ups on marriage equality and trying to disparage the LGBT community!
on December 20,2013 | 12:49PM
Anonymous wrote:
HA! Persecuted Christians? The vast majority of the country is oppressed by a small minority? What a paranoid joke!
on December 21,2013 | 03:30PM
Anonymous wrote:
Not really. How about what the churches and false Christians have been doing for centuries? Your assertion might be funny if it wasn't so harmfully wrong.
on December 21,2013 | 08:31AM
Kealii wrote:
Another victory for homos everywhere!
on December 20,2013 | 11:07AM
copperwire9 wrote:
Another victory for human rights everywhere!
on December 20,2013 | 11:16AM
Anonymous wrote:
Another defeat for homophobic policies everywhere.
on December 21,2013 | 07:59AM
kekelaward wrote:
In this Country. Other Countries aren't putting up with this. I don't see the GLBT community making ANY noise about Islamic Countries and their laws.
on December 21,2013 | 11:45AM
Anonymous wrote:
Open your ears and eyes.
on December 21,2013 | 03:52PM
Kahu Matu wrote:
What 2 or 3 individuals can do with money and flawed logic. 5% of the population has learned how to manipulate the constitution and laws of the state to fit their interests. Thought that there were checks and balances in our government, but obviously money and power can trump and suppress freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the good of the community. Our world is become darker and darker each day. We need a savior, someone to save us from ourselves. Where can we look this time of year for help and peace amidst and destructive and hatefilled world?
on December 20,2013 | 11:32AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Utah is now the most liberal State in the US of A. They now allow same sex and many sex marriages.
on December 20,2013 | 11:57AM
Bdpapa wrote:
I'd like to hear their open forum on same sex marriage.
on December 20,2013 | 02:28PM
Anonymous wrote:
We need a laws and a constitution to save us from religious extremists who try to force everybody to live under their oppressive religious dictates. One day you folks will learn to keep your lifestyle choice to yourself and stop trying to force your rules onto other people.
on December 21,2013 | 08:46AM
Anonymous wrote:
It's a good thing we HAVE those laws and constitution. Any heterosexual marriage that is "threatened" by a same-sex marriage probably has WAY more to worry about than other people being happy.
on December 21,2013 | 09:28AM
Anonymous wrote:
Then you aren't paying attention if you don't see it.
on December 21,2013 | 12:11PM
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