A US FEDERAL judge will today consider a request from the state of Utah to block gay weddings that have been taking place since Friday, when the state’s same-sex marriage ban was overturned.
US District Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled that Utah’s law passed violates gay and lesbian couples’ rights under the 14th Amendment.
Lawyers for the state want the ruling put on hold as they appeal the decision that has put Utah in the national spotlight because of its long-standing opposition to gay marriage. Shelby will hold a hearing this morning on the request.
Yesterday, a federal appeals court rejected the state’s emergency request stay the ruling, saying it couldn’t rule on a stay since Shelby hasn’t acted on the motion before him.
Following Shelby’s surprising ruling Friday afternoon, gay and lesbian couples rushed to a county clerk’s office in Salt Lake City to get marriage licences. More than 100 couples wed as others cheered them on in what became an impromptu celebration an office building about three miles from the headquarters of the Mormon church.
Hundreds of couples are expected to arrive at county clerks offices early today in hopes of getting marriage licences before a possible halt if Shelby grants the stay its request. Legal experts say that even if a stay is granted, the licences that have already been issued will likely still be valid.
Samantha Christensen, left, and Elise Larsen apply for a marriage licence. (Pic: AP Photo/Kim Raff)
For now, a state considered as one of the most conservative in the nation has joined the likes of California and New York to become the 18th state where same-sex couples can legally wed.
Utah is home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was one of the leading forces behind California’s short-lived ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, which voters approved in 2008. The church said on Friday that it stands by its support for “traditional marriage” and that it hopes a higher court validates its belief that marriage is between a man and woman.
In Shelby’s 53-page ruling, he said the constitutional amendment Utah voters approved 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.
The decision drew a swift and angry reaction Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who said he was disappointed in an “activist federal judge attempting to override the will of the people of Utah.”
The state quickly took steps to appeal the ruling and halt the process, setting up today’s hearing before Shelby.