SALT LAKE CITY — Gay couples in Utah celebrated and sought marriage licenses Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for them to marry there and in 30 other states by rejecting an appeal that sought to ban same-sex unions.
The denial of the appeal by Utah and four other states left no pending gay marriage cases before the high court.
Hours after the justices’ decision, the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted its stay on Utah and Oklahoma gay marriage cases, opening the door for same-sex weddings there.
In Salt Lake City, the three gay couples who filed the lawsuit challenging Utah’s ban exchanged kisses and cried at a news conference Monday.
“If there’s a downside, it’s only that this doesn’t apply nationwide immediately,” plaintiff Kate Call said. She predicted gay marriage bans in other states would “fall like dominos.”
Kody Partridge, another plaintiff in the case, called it a “day of celebration and victory for all of Utah.”
Partridge and Laurie Wood married in December during a brief window when gay couples were able to wed in Utah. Soon after, the weddings were halted and the state wouldn’t recognize the marriages.
Wood said Monday she is glad to know their union is on solid legal ground.
Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said he was surprised and disappointed that the Supreme Court declined to hear Utah’s case.
Speaking to reporters at the State Capitol, Herbert said he accepted the court’s decision and directed all state agencies to begin recognizing same-sex marriages.
“While I continue to believe the states do have a right to define marriage and create laws regarding marriage, ultimately we are a nation of laws, and we here in Utah will uphold the law,” Herbert said.
Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes, who appeared with Herbert, said he directed county attorneys and clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday.
Reyes said some legal questions remained, but it appeared gay marriages should be treated as legal and couples could enjoy benefits such as adoption.
By early afternoon, several couples had obtained marriage licenses from the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office.
Salt Lake City couple Gregory Enke, 51, and Ariel Ulloa, 37, picked up a license shortly after noon. Ulloa told The Associated Press he would telephone his parents and come out to them as gay before marrying his partner of eight years at the clerk’s office that afternoon.
“It’s very important because we feel like we have finally accomplished something that we have been working for for so long,” Ulloa said. “We feel like justice is being done in a way.”
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said she didn’t expect a crush of couples to come in Monday because with gay marriages now allowed, they don’t have to rush.
Salt Lake County was the scene of more than 1,000 hurried gay marriages after a federal judge in December overturned Utah’s same-sex marriage ban. U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled the 2004 voter-approved ban violated gay and lesbian couples’ rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment.
The decision came as a surprise to some because of where it originated – a conservative, deeply religious state in the heart of the mountain West.
Utah appealed, and the 10th Circuit in June again ruled in favor of gay couples. That led to the appeal to the Supreme Court.
The decision from the nation’s highest court came just after Mormon leaders reiterated opposition to gay marriage at the church’s biannual general conference this weekend in Salt Lake City, where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is based.
Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve, one of the church’s highest leadership panels, told attendees that the strong tide legalizing same-sex marriage is among current world values that challenge Mormon beliefs. He said church members “must not surrender our positions or our values,” but he also preached kindness and understanding.
“Though we disagree, we should not be disagreeable,” Oaks said. “Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious.”
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