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Gay marriage catches conservative Utah off guard

SALT LAKE CITY — A day after a judge's surprise ruling overturned Utah's same-sex marriage ban, at least one county clerk intended to open early Saturday to issue licenses.

About 40 minutes north of Salt Lake City, about 300 people showed up at the Weber County Clerk's Office on Saturday afternoon but were later turned away without marriage licenses.

Clerk Ricky Hatch apologized and said that county officials had told him that opening for special circumstances may violate constitutional guarantees of equal protection. Hatch told the Associated Press he was also told that the county's standard security requirements were not in place for a Saturday opening.

The confusion and reports of other crowds scrambling to find an open office illustrated how gay marriage caught many in Utah off guard.

On Friday, more than 100 couples rushed to wed in Salt Lake County shortly after the ruling was released. State officials slammed the decision and moved to stop licenses from being issued.

The state has given notice that it will appeal the ruling and has asked for an emergency stay to stop gay couples from getting marriage licenses. Legal experts say that even if a stay is granted, the licenses that have already been issued will likely be valid.

For now, a state considered as one of the most conservative in the nation has joined the likes of California and New York to become the 18th state where same-sex couples can legally wed.

Utah is home to the Mormon church, which was one of the leading forces behind California's short-lived ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, which voters approved in 2008.

"For something like this to happen in Utah is mind-boggling," Nathan London said Saturday as he and his boyfriend planned their wedding for Monday. "I'm sure they're going to fight it tooth-and-nail."

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, a recent appointee by President Barack Obama, ruled that Utah's ban violated the constitutional rights of gay couples and said that Utah failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect other marriages in any way. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch recommended Shelby for appointment in 2011.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said in a statement Saturday that the ruling "has created a chaotic situation" in the state. He urged Shelby to grant a motion to stay the decision until the state's appeal can be heard.

John Jensen, left, and his partner, Jared Resor, walk away from the Ogden clerk and auditor’s office after it canceled a Saturday opening to issue marriage licenses in Utah after the ban on same-sex marriage was struck down.

Associated Press

John Jensen, left, and his partner, Jared Resor, walk away from the Ogden clerk and auditor’s office after it canceled a Saturday opening to issue marriage licenses in Utah after the ban on same-sex marriage was struck down.

Gay marriage catches conservative Utah off guard 12/21/13 [Last modified: Saturday, December 21, 2013 11:35pm]
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