In a huge win for the legal struggle over equal marriage rights in Utah and nationwide, a federal appeals court has sided against the state's marriage ban.
The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit agreed today with a lower court that Utah's marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process. The case, Kitchen v. Herbert, had led to more than 1,000 same-sex couples getting married in December and January after a U.S. District Court ruled against the ban and before the U.S. Supreme Court halted the issuance of licenses.
(RELATED: Read the 10th Circuit's complete decision)
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, which assisted in the appeal, cheered today's decision as a major milestone because it's the first federal appellate court to rule since the Supreme Court did one year ago.
"Today's ruling marks the first time a federal court of appeals has ruled that excluding same-sex couples from the freedom to marry is unconstitutional," said NCLR executive director Kate Kendell in a statement. "The court makes clear that the promise of equality embedded in our revered U.S. Constitution includes the lives and loves of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. That recognition marks an indelible milestone in our nation's journey to full inclusion -- and one that will undoubtedly influence other courts in the months to come."
Attorney Peggy Tomsic, who presented the arguments on behalf of the Utah couples -- Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, and Karen Archer and Kate Call -- noted the far-reaching consequences of a federal appeals court's involvement.
"The court's ruling is a victory not only for the courageous couples who brought this case," Tomsic said in a statement, "but for our entire state and every state within the 10th Circuit."
The 10th Circuit includes Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. In its opinion, the 10th Circuit noted that the Windsor case "left open the question presented to us now in full bloom: May a State of the Union 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?" Then it sided unequivocally against the ban. "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. 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."
Meanwhile, a new ruling today by a federal judge striking down Indiana's marriage ban as unconstitutional left it unclear whether same-sex couples will be able start marrying there.