US & Canada

Utah judge denies request to halt same-sex marriages

Heather Collins (L) and her partner Jax Collins wait in line with hundreds of other applicants for a marriage license at the Salt Lake County Clerks office in Salt Lake City, Utah, 23 December 2013
Image caption Heather Collins (left) and Jax Collins (right) were among hundreds of couples waiting for marriage licences on Monday in Salt Lake County

A judge who lifted a gay marriage ban in Utah, one of the most conservative US states, has denied an application by officials to reverse the move.

Judge Robert Shelby's ruling on Friday that Utah's ban on same-sex nuptials was unconstitutional has dismayed the Republican governor and Mormon church.

He has now denied state lawyers' bid to suspend his ruling pending an appeal.

Hundreds of gay couples have been tying the knot in several counties where marriage licences are being issued.

The state asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to grant an emergency stay that would have immediately stopped gay weddings until the court can rule on whether last week's decision was valid.

Judge Shelby himself heard Monday's challenge, and rejected it.

'Chaos'

His ruling makes Utah the 18th state, alongside California and New York, to legalise same-sex weddings. It came in the same week as New Mexico approved gay marriage.

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon church, has said it hopes the ruling will be overturned by a higher court.

The case was brought by three couples who had been denied licences or recognition in the state, including one couple who had been legally married in Iowa.

They challenged a ban on gay marriage passed by Utah voters in 2004 by 66%. Judge Shelby said that violated same-sex couples' rights to equal protection.

On Monday, Republican Governor Gary Herbert said the judge's ruling had resulted in "a lot of chaos".

"This uncertainty is creating a lot of problems for us with the conflicting laws in the state of Utah, what the clerks should be doing, what the tax laws are going to be," he said in a statement.

But according to the Salt Lake City Tribune newspaper, Peggy Tomsic, a lawyer for the three same-sex couples who brought the case, told Judge Shelby on Monday: "The status quo has changed. The cloud of confusion is in the minds of the state."

In Friday's ruling, Judge Shelby said Utah had failed to show that allowing gay marriages would affect opposite-sex unions.

"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," he wrote.

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