Utah, Ohio, New Mexico: Watershed Week on the Marriage Equality Front

It has been an eventful few days on the frontlines of marriage equality, with three breakthrough court decisions.

Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby of Utah struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, ruling it unconstitutional. On Monday, he also rejected the state’s request to put the ruling (and gay weddings) on hold while the case is appealed in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The state of Utah is now seeking a stay from that court, on which a decision is pending.

In the meantime, same-sex nuptials in Utah continue, making the Beehive State the 18th in the nation where gay and lesbian couples can wed. The Associated Press reported that Salt Lake County has granted marriage licenses to more than 300 same-sex couples since Friday. Approximately 100 couples got licenses in other parts of the state. Authorities in some counties, however, including Utah County, have refused to issue licenses, citing their desire for further legal clarification.

Also on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black of Ohio ruled that state authorities must recognize out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples on death certificates. Like the Utah judge, he declared the state’s 2004 ban on gay and lesbian marriages unconstitutional. Although it represents a small step toward marriage equality in Ohio, the ruling is expected to be appealed.

The recent court decisions in Utah and Ohio are only the latest in a watershed of rulings and new legislation permitting same-sex marriages.

Last Thursday, the New Mexico Supreme Court handed down a decision allowing gay and lesbian nuptials to take place in that state. In his ruling, Justice Edward L. Chavez said, “We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law.”  With this court decision, the Land of Enchantment became the 17th state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

These swift developments are all part of a remarkable week on the marriage equality front. The decision in Utah is especially momentous. It represents the first time a federal court has declared same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act last June.

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