DENVER — A federal appeals court ruled for the first time Wednesday that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, extending the movement’s legal winning streak and bringing the issue a big 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 choose a partner of the same sex.
The court dismissed as “wholly illogical” the notion that allowing gays to wed could somehow undermine traditional marriage.
The decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel 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 planned to appeal, but it was assessing whether to go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court or ask the entire 10th Circuit to review the ruling, spokeswoman Missy Larsen said.
Wednesday’s decision “takes us one step closer to reaching certainty and finality,” the office said in a statement.
After the ruling, 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.”
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 and state judges have issued rulings siding with gay marriage advocates.