Utah appeals court strikes down same-sex marriage ban in major ruling

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(CNN) — In a first, a U.S. appeals court has struck down a state ban on same-sex marriage, creating greater political and legal momentum for the Supreme Court to decide whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to wed.

It happened on Wednesday in Utah, where a panel ruled 2-1 against the prohibition, saying that any couple, regardless of sexual orientation, has the right to marry.

“We hold that 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 majority opinion said.

“A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union,” the court said.

The state could now ask the full 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the matter or proceed directly to the Supreme Court.

Separately on Wednesday, a federal judge in Indiana struck down that state’s same-sex marriage ban. The next step there could be to an appeals panel.

The legal, social, and political conversation over expanding the definition of marriage that is playing out in Utah is by no means unique, merely another thread of an issue that is being confronted in courtrooms and living rooms nationwide.

Same-sex marriage is legal in the District of Columbia and 19 states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Massachusetts was the first to make it legal, in 2004.

A recent Williams Institute survey found among large cities in Utah, the Salt Lake City metropolitan area had the nation’s highest rate of same-sex couples raising children, at 26%. Memphis, Virginia Beach, Detroit; and San Antonio were not far behind. Among states, Mississippi led the list, also at 26%.

When it was passed in 2004, Utah’s Prop 3, which banned same-sex marriage, had 66% voter support. But that has since fallen. A Salt Lake City Tribune poll has found residents there equally divided on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to get state-issued marriage licenses.

By Bill Mears