Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal judge on Friday (20 December) who has declared it unconstitutional and said there is no ‘rational’ reason to not allow gays to marry.
US District Judge Robert J. Shelby, in a 53-page ruling, writes that the law passed by voters in 2004 is a violation of due process and equal protection under the 14th amendment of the US Constitution.
Shelby writes in part: ‘The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason. Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.’
The ruling, which comes one day after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality in that state, is from a lawsuit challenging Utah’s ban brought by three gay and lesbian couples in the state.
This is the first ruling on a state marriage ban since the US Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June.
Attorneys for the state had argued for the ban to be upheld saying the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA does not give gay couples the universal right to marry in every state.
But much of the hearing earlier this month focused on the state’s contention that a same-sex marriage ban assists with ‘responsible procreation’ provides ‘optimal mode of child-rearing.’
Shelby concluded that the state had failed to show such marriages would affect heterosexual marriages in any way.
The judge made clear he is mindful of the charged political climate in the state regarding the issue.
He writes: ‘It is only under exceptional circumstances that a court interferes with such action. But the legal issues presented in this lawsuit do not depend on whether Utah’s laws were the result of its legislature or a referendum, or whether the laws passed by the widest or smallest of margins.’
Gay marriage advocates celebrated the news Friday.
‘Today’s ruling by a federal district court in Utah, striking down Utah’s marriage ban, is a huge win, not only for same-sex couples in Utah, but for our entire country,’ said National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter.
Minter added: ‘To have such a historic ruling take place in Utah speaks volumes about our country’s trajectory from discrimination to acceptance and support for same-sex couples and their families.’
But Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert described himself as ‘very disappointed’ in the ruling and called Shelby ‘an activist federal judge.’
‘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,’ Herbert said in a statement.