A potential landmark case testing whether same-sex couples enjoy a constitutional right to marry arrives Thursday before a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Denver.
The question of same-sex marriage has divided the country, and the issue is inevitably headed to the US Supreme Court, perhaps as early as next year.
Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. In contrast, 33 states restrict marriage to one man and one woman through bans enacted by statute or constitutional amendment.
Thursday’s hour-long argument at the Tenth US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver involves a challenge to a 2004 constitutional amendment in Utah banning gay marriage. It won 66 percent of the vote.
On Dec. 20, US District Judge Robert Shelby declared the Utah amendment unconstitutional. His was the first such ruling since the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a landmark decision last June.
“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,” he ruled.
Judge Shelby said the state had no justifiable reason to treat same-sex couples differently than heterosexual couples in Utah. And the judge went substantially further. He declared that the USConstitution itself requires that Utah allow same-sex couples to marry.
If upheld by the Tenth Circuit and then the US Supreme Court, Judge Shelby’s decision would mean that every same-sex marriage restriction and ban across the country must fall.
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SOURCE: Warren Richey
Christian Science Monitor