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By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times

The state of Utah will seek to appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court a lower court ruling that upheld same-sex marriage, officials announced on Wednesday.

On June 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled against Utah’s same-sex marriage ban. The 2-1 decision marked the first time a federal appeals court had ruled in favor of gay marriage since the Supreme Court last year forced the federal government to extend benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

Utah officials could have sought an appeal of the split decision by the full court, known as an en banc review. But the state instead decided to seek permission to appeal directly to the Supreme Court, according to Missy W. Larsen, chief communications officer for Attorney General Sean D. Reyes.

“To obtain clarity and resolution from the highest court, the Utah Attorney General’s Office will not seek en banc review of the Kitchen vs. Herbert 10th Circuit decision, but will file a petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court in the coming weeks,” she said in a prepared statement. “Attorney General Reyes has a sworn duty to defend the laws of our state. Utah’s Constitutional Amendment 3 is presumed to be constitutional unless the highest court deems otherwise.”

There is no fixed date for when the Supreme Court must decide whether to take the Utah case. However, most lawyers expect the court to deal with the same-sex marriage issue, which is also pending in several cases in other appellate districts.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, in effect allowing married same-sex couples to receive federal benefits. The reasoning in that decision was also frequently cited by lower-court judges weighing the series of lawsuits to force states to legalize same-sex marriage. While the ruling was an important step, the Supreme Court didn’t deal with whether gay marriage was a right.

The Utah case was the first in the nation where a federal judge struck down a state ban on same-sex marriage, and was quickly followed by a similar ruling in Oklahoma, which is in the same federal appeals district. The appeals panel upheld same-sex marriage in Utah, but stayed the ruling pending further legal action. It has yet to rule in the Oklahoma case.

Still pending on appeal is a Virginia case that also struck down a state ban. That ruling is expected this summer.

The battle in Utah became the template of later legal fights as federal courts throughout the nation wrestled with state bans on gay marriage. Federal judges have consistently upheld the right to gay marriage and have struck down the bans, saying they violate equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Also frequently cited was the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision to strike down state laws barring marriage between races in a Virginia case.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage.

Lawsuits have been filed to legalize gay marriage and overturn any state bans in every other state. In several there have been rulings that have been put on hold pending appeals.

Photo: Matt H. Wade via Wikimedia Commons

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