DENVER — A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that states must allow gay couples to marry. The court ruled that the Constitution protected same-sex relationships and put a remarkable legal winning streak across the country one step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The three-judge panel in Denver ruled 2-1 that states cannot deprive people of the fundamental right to marry simply because they want to be wedded to someone of the same sex.
The judges on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel addressed arguments that the ruling could undermine traditional marriage. "It is wholly illogical to believe that state recognition of love and commitment of same-sex couples will alter the most intimate and personal decisions of opposite-sex couples," the judges wrote.
The decision upheld a lower court ruling that struck down Utah's gay marriage ban. It becomes law in the six states covered by the 10th Circuit: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. But the panel immediately put the ruling on hold pending an appeal.
The Utah attorney general's office will appeal the decision but is still assessing whether it will go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court or ask the entire 10th Circuit to review the ruling, spokeswoman Missy Larsen said.
"Although the Court's 2-1 split decision does not favor the State, we are pleased that the ruling has been issued and takes us one step closer to reaching certainty and finality for all Utahans on such an important issue with a decision from the highest court," the office said in a statement.
Wednesday afternoon, the couples named in the appeal hugged, cried and exchanged kisses at a news conference outside their attorney's offices in downtown Salt Lake City.
"This decision is an absolute victory for fairness and equality for all families in Utah, in every state in the 10th Circuit and every state in this great nation of the United States," said their attorney, Peggy Tomsic.
Plaintiff Derek Kitchen said he and his partner, Moudi Sbeity, are "so proud to be a part of history."
"It feels wonderful to be among one of the many same-sex couples across the country that are being respected and are offered dignity by the court system, and this is just emblematic of the United States judicial process," Kitchen said. "I don't think that the state of Utah can continue to deny same-sex couples their rights for much longer."
The decision gives increased momentum to a legal cause that already has compiled an impressive record in the lower courts after the Supreme Court last year struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Since then, 16 federal judges have issued rulings siding with gay marriage advocates.
The latest of those rulings came Wednesday in Indiana, where a federal judge struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban in a decision that immediately allows gay couples to wed.