SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge struck down Utah's same-sex marriage ban Friday in a decision that brings a growing shift toward allowing gay marriage to a conservative state where the Mormon church has long been against it.
The Salt Lake County clerk's office started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Deputy Clerk Dahnelle Burton-Lee said the district attorney authorized her office to begin issuing the licenses but she couldn't immediately say how many have been issued so far.
Just hours earlier, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby issued a 53-page ruling saying Utah's law passed by voters in 2004 violates gay and lesbian couples' rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment.
Shelby said the state failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way.
"In the absence of such evidence, the State's unsupported fears and speculations are insufficient to justify the State's refusal to dignify the family relationships of its gay and lesbian citizens," Shelby wrote.
The Utah attorney general's office said it would issue a statement on the ruling later.
Dozens of same-sex couples lined up to get marriage licenses at the Salt Lake County clerk's office Friday afternoon. State Sen. Jim Dabakis, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, was there with his longtime partner, Stephen Justesen.
"I waited 27 years," Dabakis said. "We didn't want to get married until we could get married in Utah."
Dabakis said people were rushing to get marriage licenses, fearing that the state will win a court order blocking them from being issued.
The ruling in Utah comes the same week New Mexico's highest court legalized gay marriage after declaring it unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A new law passed in Hawaii last month now allows gay couples to marry there.