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More Marriage Equality Victories: Courts Strike Down Gay Marriage Bans in Utah and Indiana

 
In this Dec. 20, 2013, file photo, Chris Serrano, left, and Clifton Webb kiss after being married, as people wait in line to get licenses outside of the marriage division of the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Kim Raff)Issuing the first decision in the growing line of federal district court cases on gay marriage stacking up around the country, a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver Wednesday morning ruled in favor of same-sex marriage couples, agreeing with Utah District Judge Robert Shelby’s landmark December ruling that the state’s gay marriage ban violates constitutionally guaranteed rights.

The judges stayed the ruling for now pending appeal to a higher court.

A main question left by the Supreme Court ruling last year striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, wrote the judges, was whether a State of the Union may “constitutionally deny a citizen the benefit or protection of the laws of the State based solely upon the sex of the person that citizen chooses to marry?”

“Having heard and carefully considered the argument of the litigants, we conclude that, consistent with the United States Constitution, the State of Utah may not do so,” they wrote. “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. 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. For the reasons stated in this opinion, we affirm.”

Evan Wolfson, president of gay-rights group Freedom to Marry, underlined the significance of the ruling.

“Today, from the heart of the Mountain West, in a case arising out of Utah, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has brought us one giant step closer to the day when all Americans will have the freedom to marry. This first federal appellate ruling affirms what more than 20 other courts all across the country have found: There is no good reason to perpetuate unfair marriage discrimination any longer. America is ready for the freedom to marry, and it is time for the Supreme Court to bring our country to national resolution and it should do so now.”

The Colorado Independent ran an in-depth profile of Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, the Utah couple at the heart of the pathbreaking case, Kitchen v. Herbert.

Meanwhile, in Indiana:

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge struck down Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday in a ruling that immediately allowed gay couples to wed.

The court clerk in Marion County, home to Indianapolis, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couple about an hour after U.S. District Judge Richard Young ruled that the state law violates the U.S. Constitution's equal-protection clause.

"Same-sex couples, who would otherwise qualify to marry in Indiana, have the right to marry in Indiana," he wrote. "These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such."

The Indiana attorney general's office said it would appeal the ruling but declined further comment.

The ruling involves lawsuits filed by several gay couples, who along with the state had asked for a summary judgment in the case. Young's ruling was mixed but generally sided with the couples and prevents the state from enforcing the ban.

"Indiana now joins the momentum for nationwide marriage equality and Hoosiers can now proclaim they are on the right side of history," Lambda Legal, the national gay rights group that represented five of the couples, said in a statement.

The decision came the same day the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling overturning Utah's gay marriage ban, marking the first time a federal appeals court has ruled that states must allow gay marriage. That ruling puts the issue a step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A movement to ban gay marriage in the Indiana Constitution faltered during this legislative session when lawmakers removed language about civil unions from the proposed amendment. That means the soonest the issue could appear on a ballot would be 2016.

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