On Wednesday it has been ruled by a federal appeals court that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, extending the movement’s legal winning streak and bringing the issue a big step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It happened on Wednesday in Utah, where the 2-1 ruling, by the 10th circuit court of appeals, upheld a lower court ruling that struck down Utah’s gay marriage ban and gives a boost to a growing momentum of legal victories by advocates for same-sex marriage.
“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,” the majority opinion from the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said.
“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,” the court said.
The Utah attorney general’s office planned to appeal, but it was assessing whether to go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court or ask the entire 10th Circuit to review the ruling, spokeswoman Missy Larsen said.
“This tees it up for possible Supreme Court review,” said William Eskridge, a law professor at Yale University. “When a federal appeals court strikes down a major state law, there is a lot more pressure for the justices to take that.”
Derek Kitchen, a key plaintiff in the case along with his partner, Moudi Sbeity, said they were “overjoyed” by the ruling.
“Since the lawsuit was filed last year, we have received so much support from so many people in our state, and we are now looking forward to the day when we will finally be married,” he said.
There is no guarantee that the Utah case will be the one that makes it to the top court. Five other appellate courts are considering similar cases, and any of those could be the one taken. The soonest a case could be decided is 2015, but often the Supreme Court waits for a split in appellate courts before considering an issue, says the Huff Post.
Later, about 300 people rallied in support of the ruling at a Salt Lake City park where rainbow flags and colorful signs were displayed proudly.
“It’s an incredible day,” said Chris Johnson, who married his partner, David Tuma, in December while gay marriage was briefly legal in Utah. “We met 19 years ago. We are former Air Force officers. It’s wonderful after 19 years to have this relationship.”
Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and counsel in the case, said the ruling “changes the legal landscape enormously”.
“This is the first time that a federal court of appeal has ruled that same sex couples have a right to marriage … it is one step away from the supreme court,” he said.
The Utah ruling was especially significant because it was the first appellate court to conclude that last year’s Supreme Court decision means states cannot deny gays the ability to marry.