SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - Same-sex marriages were allowed to proceed in Utah after a federal judge on Monday refused to block his own ruling making gay marriage legal in the state.
U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, who ruled last week that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage violated the rights of gay couples to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution, said the state had not met the legal standards required for him to issue a stay against his ruling.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert has already filed a formal notice signaling he would appeal the ruling, even as about 900 couples lined up in the cold early on Monday to obtain marriage licenses from the county clerk's office in Salt Lake City.
First in line were Sarah Friese, 31, and her partner, Veronica Christensen, 32, who had been waiting in the cold since Sunday evening for the building to open so they could get a marriage license.
"We didn't want to miss our chance," said Friese, a computer specialist, in case the marriages were halted by the courts.
Ministers and others able to perform marriages in the state dotted the stairwells of the Salt Lake County administrative building, performing marriages on the spot as couples received their licenses.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver was expected to rule as early as Monday on whether to halt same-sex marriages during the appeals process.
The appeals court has already refused twice to halt them, but Shelby's ruling Monday morning raises the issue again.
Utah's Acting Attorney General Brian Tarbet said his office would vigorously work on its appeal, and by late Monday morning had already filed its third request for a stay of Shelby's order.
"We're doing that because it's important that the voice of the people be maintained and we are going to do that cognizant of the fact that this is very emotional for many of our citizens on both sides," Tarbet said.
Last Friday, Utah became the 18th state to allow same-sex marriage.
Shelby ruled on a challenge by three gay couples to a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, deciding that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage violated the rights of gay couples to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.
"I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah," Herbert said in a statement after the ruling.
Advocates of gay marriage have won repeated victories in recent years as a growing portion of the American electorate has taken a more favorable view of same-sex relationships.
A year and a half ago, just six states and the District of Columbia recognized same-sex unions.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a landmark victory for gay rights by overturning a federal law that barred federal benefits for same-sex marriages in states where such marriages are legal.
On Thursday, the New Mexico Supreme Court decided to allow same-sex marriage across the state. In November, the governors of Hawaii and Illinois signed legislation to legalize same-sex weddings.