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Utah taking appeal of same-sex marriage ruling to U.S. Supreme Court

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
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Utah state capitol in Salt Lake City.

Utah state capitol in Salt Lake City.

Updated: 5:30 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is going directly to the nation’s highest court to challenge an appellate ruling that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, the state attorney general’s office announced Wednesday.

If the U.S. Supreme court decides to take the case, it will be the first time the top court considers gay marriage since justices last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

“It is a milestone that when the Supreme Court reconvenes in October, there will be at least one (gay marriage) petition pending,” said Jon Davidson, director of Lambda Legal, which pursues litigation on LGBT issues nationwide.

The high court is under no obligation to the take the case, and it could wait for rulings from one or more of the five other appellate courts with gay marriage cases pending, legal scholars say.

But legal experts predict the nation’s top court will consider a gay marriage case sometime in 2015 or later.

Utah’s appeal is of a June 25 ruling from a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which found states cannot deprive people of the fundamental right to marry simply because they choose partners of the same sex.

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The 2-1 decision marked the first time a federal appeals court weighed in on the matter. The panel immediately put the ruling on hold pending an appeal.

The Utah case is certain to pique the Supreme Court’s interest, but the justices usually look for cases that involve split rulings from federal appeals courts, said Douglas NeJaime, a University of California-Irvine law professor.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments about Virginia’s ban in early May, and a ruling is expected soon. Arguments are scheduled for August and September in two different courts for cases out of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Nevada and Idaho.

“My best guess it that the court will hang onto this for a while and see what happens,” NeJaime said. “There are so many cases now, it will have a pick.”

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