Tuesday , October 07, 2014 - 8:12 AM
SALT LAKE CITY — Jubilant gay couples in Utah celebrated a historic legal victory Monday by applying for marriage licenses and exchanging vows after the nation’s highest court unexpectedly rejected appeals by five states trying to protect their same-sex marriage bans.
The denial of the appeal by Utah and four other states left no pending gay marriage cases before the high court.
Hours after the justices’ decision, the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted its stay on Utah and Oklahoma gay marriage cases, opening the door for same-sex weddings there.
Suzanne Marelius, 58, and Kelli Frame, 55, were the first same-sex couple to pick up a license in Salt Lake County on Monday.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s real,” said Marelius, adding the couple plans to marry later this month when family and friends can be there.
Earlier in the day, the three gay couples who sued over Utah’s ban exchanged kisses and cried at a news conference.
“If there’s a downside, it’s only that this doesn’t apply nationwide immediately,” plaintiff Kate Call said. She predicted gay marriage bans in other states would “fall like dominos.”
Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said he was surprised and disappointed that the Supreme Court declined to hear Utah’s case.
Speaking to reporters at the State Capitol, the governor said he accepted the court’s decision and directed all state agencies to begin recognizing same-sex marriages.
“While I continue to believe the states do have the right to define marriage and create laws regarding marriage, ultimately we are a nation of laws, and we here in Utah will uphold the law,” Herbert said.
Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes, who appeared with Herbert, said he directed county attorneys and clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday.
Reyes said some legal questions remained, but it appeared gay marriages should be treated as legal and couples could enjoy benefits such as adoption.
By early afternoon, several couples had obtained marriage licenses from the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office, and a handful followed through with on-the-spot weddings.
Salt Lake City couple Gregory Enke, 51, and Ariel Ulloa, 37, picked up a license shortly after noon and married in a hallway outside the clerk’s office.
“I shed all the tears this morning. I really did. It was so overwhelming,” Enke said after the ceremony.
Farther north in Weber County, two same-sex couple showed up for licenses, according to Clerk Ricky Hatch. In other Utah counties, local officials reported no gay couples had sought marriage licenses yet.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said about 10 couples came in Monday. Swensen said she’s not expecting a rush because gay couples can take their time now that their unions are legal.
Salt Lake County was the scene of more than 1,000 hurried gay marriages after a federal judge in December overturned Utah’s same-sex marriage ban. U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled the 2004 voter-approved ban violated gay and lesbian couples’ rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment.
The decision came as a surprise to some because of where it originated — a conservative, deeply religious state in the heart of the mountain West.
Utah appealed, and the 10th Circuit in June again ruled in favor of gay couples. That led to the appeal to the Supreme Court.
The decision from the nation’s highest court came just after Mormon leaders reiterated opposition to gay marriage at the church’s biannual general conference this weekend in Salt Lake City, where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is based.
On Monday, the church issued a statement saying the Supreme Court’s decision will have no effect on church doctrine or practices.
“As far as the civil law is concerned, the courts have spoken,” the statement said. “Church leaders will continue to encourage our people to be persons of good will toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or non-belief, and differences in sexual orientation.”
Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice and Lindsay Whitehurst at https://twitter.com/lwhitehurst .
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