SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge struck down Utah's same-sex marriage ban Friday in a conservative state where the Mormon church has long been against it.
The decision set off a frenzy as the clerk in the state's most populous county began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples while state officials took steps to appeal the ruling and halt the process.
Cheers erupted as Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker led one of the state's first gay wedding ceremonies in an office building about 3 miles from the headquarters of the Mormon church.
Salt Lake County deputy clerk Dahnelle Burton-Lee said the district attorney authorized her office to begin issuing marriage licenses, but she couldn't say how many had been issued.
Just hours earlier, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby issued a 53-page ruling saying the constitutional amendment that Utah voters approved in 2004 violated gay and lesbian couples' rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Shelby said the state failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way.
The decision drew a swift and angry reaction from Utah leaders, including Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.
"I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah," Herbert said.
The state filed a notice of appeal and was working on a request for an emergency stay that would stop marriage licenses from being issued to same-sex couples.
If the ruling stands, Utah would become the 18th state to allow gay marriages. The District of Columbia also allows same-sex marriages.