A federal judge on Friday struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, a ruling that appeared to clear the way for Utah to become the 18th U.S. state to allow gay marriage.
U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby said an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as the exclusive union of a man and a woman violated the rights of gay couples to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.
“The court hereby enjoins the state from enforcing” the ban “to the extent these laws prohibit a person from marrying another person of the same sex,” Shelby said in the 53-page ruling, which was in response to a lawsuit brought by three gay and lesbian couples seeking the right to marry.
“It feels unreal,” plaintiff Moudi Sbeity, who sued along with partner Derek Kitchen, told the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. “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.”
Attorney Peggy Tomsic, who represented plaintiffs in the case, told the newspaper that the decision would provide legal precedent in other states, but said the battle was not over because she expected Utah to appeal.
Representatives for the Utah Attorney General’s Office and Governor Gary Herbert could not immediately be reached for comment.
Utah lawmakers had passed laws to prohibit gay marriage, and voters in 2004 approved an amendment to the state constitution to restrict the union to only between a man and a woman.
The ruling came a day after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled to allow same-sex marriage across that state, ending legal ambiguity that had produced a patchwork arrangement in which some counties permitted gay nuptials while others prohibited them.