SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban Friday in a decision that marks a drastic shift toward gay marriage in a conservative state where the Mormon church has long been against it.
The decision set off an immediate frenzy as the clerk in the state’s most populous county began issuing marriage licenses to dozens of gay couples while state officials took steps to appeal the ruling and halt the process.
Cheers erupted as the mayor of Salt Lake City led one of the state’s first gay wedding ceremonies in an office building about three miles from the headquarters of the Mormon church.
Deputy Salt Lake County Clerk Dahnelle Burton-Lee said the district attorney authorized her office to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples but she couldn’t immediately say how many had been issued.
Just hours earlier, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby issued a 53-page ruling saying the constitutional amendment Utah voters approved in 2004 violates gay and lesbian couples’ rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Shelby said the state failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way.
“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,” Shelby wrote.
The decision drew a swift and angry reaction from Utah leaders, including Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.
“I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah. I am working with my legal counsel and the acting attorney general to determine the best course to defend traditional marriage within the borders of Utah,” Herbert said.