A federal judge declared Utah's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional on Friday, citing the constitution's equal protection and due process provisions. The decision comes one day after New Mexico's Supreme Court made the state the 17th in the nation to legalize gay marriage. This could mean that gay couples in the state will be able to apply for marriage licenses immediately (update: yep, it does). The decision was a result of a suit from three LGBT couples in the state, challenging the ban. If the decision stands, Utah will become the 18th state to legalize same-sex marriage. The Utah attorney general's office said it would issue a statement on the ruling later.
The Salt Lake Tribune quotes U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby's decision:
"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."
Shelby was appointed by President Obama in 2011. He was confirmed last year. You can read the full decision below.
Interestingly, Shelby's ruling cites the Supreme Court's decision on California's Proposition 8. Mormon conservatives were one of the driving forces behind the California ban's passage in the first place. Instead of making a decision on the law itself, however, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that private individuals didn't have standing to defend the law in the courts. That decision effectively lifted California's voter-approved ban on gay marriage, but left unanswered the question of whether same-sex marriage bans in general violate due process and equal protection. Shelby writes:
A number of lawsuits, including the suit currently pending before this court, have been filed across the country to address the question that the Supreme Court left unanswered in the California case. The court turns to that question now.
In line with other recent decisions in favor of same-sex marriage rights, the judge's decision also cites the Supreme Court's decision to strike down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act earlier this year, opening up federal benefits to all legally-married couples.
It's not clear whether Utah will appeal the decision or not. The state argued that its ban is necessary to preserve its interest in "responsible procreation" and the "optimal mode of child-rearing," as the AP explains. Shelby's decision compares the state's arguments in support of a same-sex marriage ban to those used by Virginia in the '60s to defend a ban on interracial marriage, finding that the arguments are "almost identical." He writes:
The State of Utah has provided no evidence that opposite-sex marriage will be affected in any way by same-sex marriage. In the absence of such evidence, the State’s unsupported fears and speculations are insufficient to justify the State’s refusal to dignify the family relationships of its gay and lesbian citizens
Oh, and there's also this part:
Federal judge trolls Scalia in same-sex marriage case pic.twitter.com/fDHC6a0jBk— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) December 20, 2013
This post is on a developing story, and we'll update as more information is available.