Utah's gay marriage ban struck down in appeals court

(AP)

For the first time, a federal appeals court has ruled in the same-sex marriage debate as Utah's gay marriage ban was struck down Wednesday by a panel of three judges.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed that the state's voter-approved gay marriage ban, initially struck down in December, is unconstitutional. The judges cited the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law in their decision.

"The Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children, and enjoy the full protection of a state's marital laws," the court wrote.

"A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognise their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union."

A stay on the decision was granted, and the attorney general has asked the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert has repeatedly stated that he will defend the state's 2004 law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman all the way to the highest court, and to do otherwise would be "the next step to anarchy".

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch agreed that the developments are a slippery slope.

"Is the federal government constitutionally going to take away all the rights of the states?" Hatch asked in a May interview.

"We're in danger of losing our religious freedom and our rights. People are moving away from going to church on Sundays. People are starting to find fault with religions and their beliefs," he said.

Although Sen. Hatch disagrees with the judicial branch's decisions, he stated that he must still uphold the law.

"I think it's a portend of the future that sooner or later, gay marriage is probably going to be approved by the Supreme Court of the United States," he said.

"I don't think that's the right way to go. But on the other hand, I do accept whatever the courts say."

Indiana's gay marriage ban was also reversed Wednesday, and marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples almost immediately. The attorney general plans to appeal that decision.

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