(CNN) — A federal judge in Utah has struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying the law “conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law.”
In striking down the state law, which voters approved in 2004, the judge ruled that the state’s “current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason.
“Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional,” U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby wrote in a 53-page ruling.
The lawsuit was brought by one gay and two lesbian couples in Utah who wish to marry but have been unable to do so because the Utah Constitution prohibits same-sex marriage.
The decision was greeted with joy from a spokesman for GLAAD, formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “At last, loving and committed couples in Utah will have the opportunity to celebrate marriage equality this holiday season,” said Wilson Cruz in a posting on its website.
“We are seeing state leaders and more and more citizens recognize that loving and committed couples should not be legally kept apart,” said Cruz. “We look forward to seeing that momentum to continue in 2014.”
A spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement that it supports “traditional marriage,” while teaching that everyone should be treated with respect. “This ruling by a district court will work its way through the judicial process,” Eric Hawkins said.
“We continue to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state Constitution that marriage should be between a man and a woman and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court.”
That view was not shared by Clifford Rosky, chairman of the board of Equality Utah. “We think it is a thoughtful and careful ruling that is based on the Supreme Court decision last summer and we expect that it will be upheld ultimately by the United States Supreme Court,” he said.
Same-sex marriage is legal in 17 other U.S states and the District of Columbia: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Same-sex marriage is banned by constitutional amendment or state law in: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Worldwide, 16 other countries (and parts of Mexico) have laws allowing same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships. Most of these are in Europe and South America.
Civil unions, which are legal in Colorado, grant couples most of the rights of state civil marriages, but provide none of the federal benefits of marriage, such as Social Security benefits.
These rights include spousal support, medical decision-making privileges, access to a partner’s insurance, and hospital visitation rights.
President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage and defining marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” in 1996.
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected parts of DOMA, in a 5-4 decision that dismissed an appeal over same-sex marriage on jurisdictional grounds and ruled same-sex spouses legally married in a state may receive federal benefits.
On Thursday, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously to allow same-sex marriage statewide and ordered county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to qualified same-sex couples.