Status: Constitutional ban on marriage equality declared unconstitutional by federal court – stayed pending appeal.
In Kitchen v. Herbert, a group of same-sex couples, represented by private counsel and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, are challenging Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples in federal court. On December 20, 2013, a trial judge ruled on behalf of the plaintiffs, declaring the ban unconstitutional, thereby directing the state to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Over 1,300 gay and lesbian Utahans were married before January 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court, upon the state’s request, put further marriages on hold while the case is appealed. The case will now be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, together with the case challenging Oklahoma’s ban, Bishop v. Oklahoma.
On Wednesday, June 25, the Tenth Circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Utah Case, striking down the state's ban on marrige equality. In a 2-1 decision authored by Judge Lucero on behalf of a three-judge panel, the court agreed with the low court’s ruling in which Judge Shelby wrote that the ban denies “[Utah’s] 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.” The Tenth Circuit’s ruling represents the broadest appellate court ruling in favor of a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry. The court applied strict scrutiny in striking down Utah’s marriage ban, providing the highest level of protection to same-sex couples.
The state now has the option to request an en banc appeal before the full bench of the Tenth Circuit. The Tenth Circuit decides whether or not to grant that request. If denied, the defendants can also appeal today’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. They may also bypass an en banc session and appeal directly to the Supreme Court.
In Evans v. Utah, a group of same-sex couples who received marriage licenses after the trial court’s decision in Kitchen v. Herbert filed suit in federal court after the Governor announced that the state would not recognize those marriages while the Kitchen decision is being appealed. The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU, argue that the state’s refusal to recognize their marriages violates the due process guarantees of the Utah and U.S. Constitutions.