Update: 3:00 p.m. MST
PHOENIX — Same-sex marriage became legal in Arizona on Friday, a sharp turn for a state that became ground zero in the clash over gay rights less than a year ago when the state Legislature passed a bill allowing businesses to deny service to gays and lesbians.
Same-sex couples lined up to marry at the courthouse in downtown Phoenix immediately after Attorney General Tom Horne announced that the state wouldn’t challenge a federal court decision that cleared the way for same-sex unions in the state.
David Larance and Kevin Patterson, who were among the couples who sued to overturn Arizona’s ban, reflected on the effect of the ruling. “The best way I can describe it, is that it gives me such peace of mind,” Patterson said, choking back tears.
Shortly after, they were married to cheers on the courthouse lawn. “This is a great day,” Patterson said. “I never thought this would happen in Arizona.”
The decision bookends two weeks of nonstop court rulings across the nation, with judges striking down bans on same-sex unions and conservative state officials pushing back in a struggle that has increasingly gone in favor of gay marriage supporters.
Since Oct. 6 – when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand rulings that struck down gay marriage bans – same-sex couples have begun to wed in several new states.
In the West, for example, couples have since tied the knot in Alaska, Arizona, Idaho and Nevada, making Montana the lone state under the jurisdiction of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where same-sex couples haven’t legally wed.
The federal government, meanwhile, announced Friday morning that it will recognize same-sex marriages in seven new states and extend federal benefits to those couples, which brings the total number of states where gay and lesbian unions have federal recognition to 26, plus the District of Columbia.
Based on the flurry of recent court decisions, including Arizona’s ruling Friday, more than 30 states now extend marriage rights to gay couples, and cases are pending in several others.
Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, said in a statement that federal courts have thwarted the will of voters and eroded the state’s power to regulate laws.
“Simply put, courts should not be in the business of making and changing laws based on their personal agendas,” Brewer said. “It is not the role of the judiciary to determine that same-sex marriages should be allowed.”
The issue has long been a source of tension in Arizona. Nearly eight months ago, Brewer vetoed the bill…