U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby issued a decision Friday afternoon that bars enforcement of both the Utah law prohibiting same-sex marriage and the amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as a legal union only between a man and a woman.
The case was brought last year by three same-sex couples. Two couples were denied marriage licenses by the Salt Lake County Clerk. One couple was legally married in Iowa and want to have their marriage recognized by the state of Utah, where they live.
Judge Shelby’s 53-page ruling dismisses arguments by the state of Utah that allowing same-sex marriage diminishes the state’s interest in responsible procreation by married couples. His writes in the document, “The State has presented no evidence that the number of opposite-sex couples choosing to marry each other is likely to be affected in any way by the ability of same-sex couples to marry.”
Supporters of same-sex marriage were quick to applaud the ruling. John Mejia, the legal director of the ACLU of Utah, sent an e-mail to news media saying, “This law only serves to deny loving and committed couples the protection and dignity that only comes with marriage.” The ACLU had filed a friend of the court brief in the case.
A spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has opposed legalizing same-sex marriage in a number of states, issued a statement following the ruling. Cody Craynor told reporters in an e-mail, “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.”
Governor Gary Herbert expressed disappointment with the ruling, which he blamed on an "activist federal judge." In a statement to media, Herbert said "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"
At about 3 p.m. on Friday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill advised county clerk Sherrie Swenson to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. He said in a statement that unless a stay is granted or Judge Shelby is overturned, the county must abide by the federal court's decision. Many gay couples rushed to the Salt Lake City and County building. Many got married on the spot after receiving licenses. Kody Partridge and Lori Wood, one of three couples named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Amendment 3, got married. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker hastily presided over the vows of many couples including the wedding of State Senator and Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis who married his longtime partner Stephen Justesen.
Later Friday afternoon, acting Utah Attorney General's office asked Judge Shelby to stay his decision, but Shelby refused to grant a stay. Attorney General spokesman Paul Murphy said in a statement that officials in the office are filing a written motion for a stay of Shelby's which the judge says he will resolve on an expedited basis, but it's unclear when Shelby will decide whether or not to grant the written stay.
Earlier this week, the New Mexico State Supreme Court ruled to uphold gay marriage while the governors of Illinois and Hawaii signed laws to legalize gay marriage.