Federal judge strikes down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage

Posted at 2:09 PM, Dec 20, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-21 22:29:29-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal judge declared Utah's Amendment Three, which defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman, as unconstitutional.

"The court hereby declares that Amendment 3 is unconstitutional because it denies the Plaintiffs their rights to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution," United States District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby wrote in a ruling Friday.

Read the ruling here. [PDF]

FOX 13 News' Annie Cutler was there to capture the first same-sex marriage performed in Utah on camera, click here for the video. The man tweeted:

More than 100 people received marriage licenses. FOX 13 News spoke with some of the couples who were married Friday, including State Senator Jim Dabakis--see the videos at the bottom of this story for their interviews.

The Salt Lake County Clerk's Office stayed open late to marry same-sex couples as they lined up, but sometime around 7:45 p.m. they closed the doors. Officials with the Utah Pride Center said they asked the clerk's office to open Saturday at 11 a.m. to grant more licenses, but the office maintained its normal operating hours.

About a thousand people waited in line in Weber County after officials with the Weber County Clerk's Office initially said they intended to open Saturday, but officials ultimately decided against it due to legal and security concerns.

Poll: Should same-sex marriages continue in Utah?

FOX 13 News contacted officials with Box Elder, Duchesne, San Juan, Uintah, Utah, Wayne and Weber counties, and officials said Friday they were not issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples. Most said they are waiting for instructions from state officials.

Gov. Gary Herbert sent out a letter to the county clerks Saturday, advising them on the situation. Click here for the letter.

Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson issued a statement to FOX 13 News regarding marriage licenses.

"Based upon today’s ruling by US District Court Judge Robert Shelby that Utah’s same sex marriage ban is unconstitutional; I am seeking further clarification from the State, and the Utah County Attorney’s Office. Until I receive the further clarification that I’m seeking, the Utah County Clerk’s Office will not be making any policy changes in regards to which we issue marriage licenses. We will continue at this time to issue a marriage license only to applicant couples (male and female) who appear together at the Utah County Clerk’s Office."

Cache County officials said they will be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples for now. Officials in Washington County also said they would be issuing marriage licenses, and they said they initially waited to receive an "OK" from the county attorney's office before doing so.

Brock Belnap, Washington County Attorney, said Judge Shelby's order was clear, and "we follow the law." Two licenses were issued Friday, Belnap said.

"There's no legal basis to treat same-sex couples differently from heterosexual couples requesting marriage licenses," he said.

Davis County officials said in a statement that, "The decision announced today, unless and until a stay is granted or Judge Shelby is overturned, is the law of the land. We do not advise folks they can disregard an Order issued by a court with jurisdiction, even if we / they disagree."

The Utah Attorney General’s Office said they were requesting an emergency stay as they appeal. They released this statement:

“The federal district court’s ruling that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right has never been established in any previous case in the 10th Circuit. The state is requesting an emergency stay pending the filing of an appeal. The Attorney General’s Office will continue reviewing the ruling in detail until an appeal is filed to support the constitutional amendment passed by the citizens of Utah.”

Officials with the Utah Attorney General's Office issued a second statement late Friday night:

"The Utah Attorney General's Office and the plaintiffs in the Amendment 3 lawsuit discussed with U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby this afternoon a stay of his decision prohibiting Utah's definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.  Judge Shelby declined to stay his decision on the court's own accord and would not entertain an oral motion to stay.  As a result, the Attorney General's Office is filing a written motion to stay, which the judge has said he will resolve on an expedited basis."

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said in a statement same-sex marriages would continue in Salt Lake County for now.

"Earlier today, we received Judge Shelby’s opinion declaring Utah’s same sex marriage ban unconstitutional as a violation of both Equal Protection and Due Process. Consistent with the federal constitution and Judge Shelby’s order, we promptly advised the Salt Lake County Clerk that marriage license applications submitted by same sex couples should be processed in the same manner as all other applications for marriage licenses.

We understand the State just filed its Notice and Appeal and may soon file a motion to stay Judge Shelby’s order pending appeal. However, until Judge Shelby determines to stay his order, or until the State successfully petitions an appellate court to stay or reverse the ruling, we will continue to honor and uphold the constitutional rights of all Utahns."

Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statement expressing displeasure with the ruling, and the Sutherland Institute, a conservative policy think tank, also spoke out against the judge's decision. Click here for more information and their statements.

Cody Craynor, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, released the following statement in response to the ruling.

“The Church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with respect. This ruling by a district court will work its way through the judicial process. 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.”

In a press release, The American Civil Liberties Union stated they had filed a friend of the court brief in connection with the three couple’s challenge of the law.

“We’re glad that the court has ruled against this discriminatory law,” said John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, in the release. “This law only serves to deny loving and committed couples the protection and dignity that only comes with marriage. We congratulate the brave couples who brought this challenge and their legal team.”

FOX 13 News spoke with attorneys for the plaintiffs as well as the state earlier this month.

The state had argued that only allowing marriage between a man and a woman promotes responsible procreation and supports the “optimal mode of child rearing.”

Phil Lott is a Utah assistant attorney general, and he said Amendment Three doesn’t come from a place of bigotry.

“Sixty six percent of the voters of Utah passed Amendment Three, and it’s impossible to consider that 66 percent of the population of Utah are bigoted against homosexuals,” he said earlier in December. “That’s simply not the fact.”

Peggy Tomsic is an attorney for the plaintiffs, and she said prior to the judge’s ruling she believes Amendment Three is unconstitutional.

“There is a clear line of authority from the Supreme Court that says you cannot let a popular vote decide a person’s rights,” she said. “If that were so, we would still be banning racially integrated marriages in the South, I believe.”