Gay couples rush to marry after judge rules that law approved in 2004 referendum violates country’s constitution.
A federal judge has struck down Utah’s ban on gay marriage, saying that the western state’s law – approved by voters in a referendum in 2004 – violates the US constitution.
District Judge Robert Shelby, ruling in a lawsuit brought by three gay couples, said the state’s law conflicts with the right of same-sex couples to equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the constitution.
“The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in doing so, demean the dignity of these same sex couples for no rational reason,” he said on Friday.
“Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.”
The ruling was a major victory to gay rights activists in the conservative state where the Mormon church wields considerable influence.
It also marks an ongoing nationwide shift towards allowing gay marriage. Neighbouring New Mexico became the 17th US state to legalise same-sex marriage on Thursday.
Salt Lake County Deputy Clerk Dahnelle Burton-Lee said the district attorney authorised her office to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Friday.
A festive atmosphere broke out in the county government building that played host to a string of impromptu weddings – including that of a state senator to his longtime partner.
But a spokesman for the state’s Attorney General’s office said lawyers would seek an emergency stay of the judge’s order while the office appealed to a higher court.