Utah gay couples wed after same-sex marriage ban struck down by judge

Couples line up to marry in Salt Lake City just hours after ban is lifted

Gay couples have wed in Utah, just hours after a federal judge struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional on Friday.

US District Judge Robert Shelby, ruling in a lawsuit brought by three gay couples, found that an amendment to the Utah Constitution defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman violated the rights of gay couples to due process and equal protection under the US Constitution.

It overturns a law passed in 2004 that prohibits gay marriage when voters approved an amendment to the state constitution restricting marriage to the union between a man and a woman.

Just hours after the ruling was passed gay couples began lining up to be married as the county clerk started issuing licenses. According to The Associated Press, one woman eager to be married arrived at Salt Lake City's county government building to join others waiting for a string of impromptu weddings - including that of a state senator to his longtime partner.

Couple J. Seth Anderson, 31, and Michael Ferguson, 32, said they were the first to wed after rushing to the county government building when they heard the news.

Salt Lake County deputy  clerk Dahnelle Burton-Lee said 124 marriage licenses were issued in just one day, although some of these may have been granted to heterosexual couples as well.

In his ruling, Shelby wrote that the right to marry is a fundamental right protected by the US Constitution.

He wrote: “These rights would be meaningless if the Constitution did not also prevent the government from interfering with the intensely personal choices an individual makes when that person decides to make a solemn commitment to another human being,”.

“The state's current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in doing so, demean the dignity of these same sex couples for no rational reason. Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional,” Shelby said.

The ruling comes after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled to allow same-sex marriage across the state on Thursday.

A spokesperson for the state's Attorney General's office said they would seek an emergency stay of the judge's order pending filing an appeal to a higher court.