“I can't believe this is Utah."
Those were the words of Elisa Noel who stood in line for a license for marriage with her same-sex partner on Friday after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban.
U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby overturned Utah's ban on Friday on the grounds that it violates same-sex couples' rights to equal protections and due process that are protected in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. constitution.
"The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason," wrote Shelby in a 53-page ruling. "Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional."
NPR's Howard Berkes reports, "Within minutes of the federal court decision, the Salt Lake County Clerk's office was inundated with gay couples seeking marriage licenses. And marriages were performed in the lobby and hallways long after the office was scheduled to close."
The ruling also prompted immediate criticism from the state's opponents of gay marriage, including its governor, as well as the attorney general, who filed an appeal on Friday and and sought an emergency stay of the ruling.
Yet supporters of marriage equality expressed hope that the tide is turning in their favor.
"At last, loving and committed couples in Utah will have the opportunity to celebrate marriage equality this holiday season. Utah's ruling, which comes after the so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act' was ruled unconstitutional, makes it the 9th state to pass marriage equality in 2013 alone," said Wilson Cruz, GLAAD's National Spokesperson. "We are seeing state leaders and more and more citizens recognize that loving and committed couples should not be legally kept apart. We look forward to seeing that momentum to continue in 2014."
“This is a tremendous day for loving and committed same-sex couples and their families in Utah, building on the momentum of eight other states that have ended their restrictions on marriage for same-sex couples in 2013," said Marc Solomon, National Campaign Director of Freedom to Marry. "We hope that officials implement this ruling statewide. As same-sex couples celebrate their weddings, more people will see that sharing in the freedom to marry helps families and harms no one.”