“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,” US District Judge Robert J Shelby stated in a Dec 20 ruling, striking down Utah's same-sex-marriage ban.
Utah voters approved the ban in 2004.
In the 53-page decision, Shelby says that the state "was unable to articulate a specific connection between its prohibition of same-sex marriage and any of its stated legitimate interests."
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that hundreds of people turned up at the Salt Lake County Clerk's offices seeking marriage licences.
Utah's attorney general will reportedly seek a stay of Shelby's ruling and intends to file an appeal.
Shelby's ruling follows that of the New Mexico Supreme Court, which said that New Mexico "is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry."
Like the New Mexico Supreme Court, Shelby cited the US Supreme Court's ruling in Loving v Virginia that struck down laws banning interracial marriage. He noted that the arguments made in support of maintaining Virgina's prohibition against interracial marriage are "almost identical to the assertions made by the State of Utah in support of Utah's laws prohibiting same-sex marriage."
He wrote, "The court finds these arguments as unpersuasive as the Supreme Court found them fifty years ago. Anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia and elsewhere were designed to, and did, deprive a targeted minority of the full measure of human dignity and liberty by denying them the freedom to marry the partner of their choice."
Utah’s Amendment 3, which defines marriage as being a union solely between a man and a woman, achieves the same result, Shelby ruled.
"Rather than protecting or supporting the families of opposite-sex couples, Amendment 3 perpetuates inequality by holding that the families and relationships of same-sex couples are not now, nor ever will be, worthy of recognition. Amendment 3 does not thereby elevate the status of opposite-sex marriage; it merely demeans the dignity of same-sex couples," he wrote. "And while the State cites an interest in protecting traditional marriage, it protects that interest by denying one of the most traditional aspects of marriage to thousands of its citizens: the right to form a family that is strengthened by a partnership based on love, intimacy, and shared responsibilities."
The court declared Amendment 3 unconstitutional because it "denies the Plaintiffs their rights to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution."