U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, who led a lawsuit of three gay couples, decided that an amendment to the state’s Constitution defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman violated the rights of same-sex union to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.
“The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in doing so, demean the dignity of these same sex couples for no rational reason. Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional,” Shelby said.
The 53-page ruling now barres the state from enforcing its ban on gay marriages and adds to growing momentum toward legalizing gay marriage across the nation, report the local media agencies.
In his decision the federaljudge also touched off an immediate rush to the altar by same-sex unions, especially in Salt Lake City, where “a festive atmosphere broke out in the county government building that played host to a string of impromptu weddings – including that of a state senator to his longtime partner.”
Howver, a spokesperson for the state’s Attorney General’s office revealed today that lawyers intend to seek an emergency stay of the judge’s order while the office appealed to a higher court.
“I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah,” said Utah Governor Gary Herbert. I am working with my legal counsel and the acting attorney general to determine the best course to defend traditional marriage within the borders of Utah.”
The ruling, if it is not declined by a higher instation, would make the 18th U.S. state to allow same-sex nuptials, adding to a growing number that have seen gay marriage legalized within next few months.
In finding directed to the plaintiffs in the Utah case,the judge rejected arguments by the state that it had the right to define marriage free of interference from the federal government.
“The court agrees with Utah that regulation of marriage has traditionally been the province of the states, and remains so today,” Shelby wrote, adding that any state regulations must still comply with the U.S. Constitution.
Meanwhile, gay rights activists and same-sex couples welcomed the ruling.
“It feels unreal,” plaintiff Moudi Sbeity, who sued along with partner Derek Kitchen, told a local news agency after Shelby’s ruling. “I’m just very thrilled that Derek and I will be able to get married soon, if all goes well and the state doesn’t appeal.”
“I feel like we were denied our rights,” said Terri Henry, who was refused to tie the knots with her girlfriend when she tried to obtain a license to marry. “I love Penny, and we deserve this recognition.”