Same-Sex Marriage Decision in Utah Could Go All the Way to the Supreme Court This Fall

A decade after 11 states banned gay marriage, gay-rights advocates are gaining ground over their opponents.

A case in Utah could be the first legal challenge to same-sex marriages bans at the state level to make it to the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

A three-judge panel for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. "We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children, and enjoy the full protection of a state's marital laws," the panel wrote. "A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union."

The judges did, however, grant a stay. Same-sex marriages will not yet be performed in Utah while state Attorney General Sean Reyes, a Republican, pursues an appeal. Reyes has already said he will appeal the case to the nation's highest court, the Associated Press reported.

The decision represents the broadest ruling on same-sex marriage yet by a Circuit Court, Sarah Warbelow, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group, said Wednesday. That could set up the Utah case for a Supreme Court battle when the Court resumes in October.

Warbelow noted, however, that similar cases are being heard in other Circuit Courts across the country, any of which could be brought up by the Supreme Court. For example, the 10th Circuit Court is also considering a case concerning Oklahoma's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed out-of-state. A decision in that case, which was argued at the same time as the Utah case, could come any time. And, although it deals solely with out-of-state marriages, it could be interpreted broadly by the Court and used to legalize marriage within Oklahoma's borders as well.

Also Wednesday, a lower federal court ruled that Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The judge did not grant a stay and called on the state to begin issuing marriage licenses. At least one justice has already begun doing so, according to Warbelow, but given the attorney general's decision to appeal, those issuances could come to a halt at any time.

It is unclear how the Indiana decision will affect the state Legislature's push to add a ban on same-sex marriage to the state's constitution. Although the state has had a law on the books banning same-sex marriage for years, the state constitution is one of the few in the country that never had one. The Legislature passed a constitutional ban earlier this year, but will have to pass it again in the 2015 or 2016 legislative sessions. Only then can it appear on the 2016 ballot, where voters will also have to approve of the ban in order for it to be added to the state's constitution.

The decisions in Utah and Indiana follow a growing national pattern. Since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last summer, judges across the country have ruled against bans on same-sex marriage in nearly every case brought before them. A federal court in Mississippi is the only one this year to have ruled against same-sex marriage and that case is on appeal.

Attorneys are now arguing cases in favor of same-sex marriage in every state that does not currently allow it.

Just a decade after Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage, gay couples in 19 states and the District of Columbia can now marry. In seven other states so far this year, a judge has ruled in favor of gay marriage but granted a stay to halt those unions while the cases are on appeal.

Forty-four percent of Americans now live in a state that allows same-sex marriage, according to the Human Rights Campaign, while three other states have legalized civil unions and domestic partnerships.

In a sign of changing times, the fight over marriage rights is overwhelmingly being waged by activists who favor same-sex marriage, rather than those working to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples. A decade after 11 states passed constitutional bans on same-sex marriage thanks to a coordinated effort by supporters of former President George W. Bush to boost his poll numbers, only one state — Indiana — is currently pursuing limitations to the marriage rights of same-sex couples. Meanwhile, efforts are underway in 31 states to expand them.

Legislatures in seven states — Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah — have pushed bills that would allow businesses that object on religious grounds to refuse service to same-sex couples. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed such legislation in her state in February.

Take a look at the current battleground over same-sex marriage below, including current laws in all 50 states, lawsuits filed by same-sex couples to overturn state bans, and state legislatures that are working to alter their marriage laws.

We'll keep this updated periodically with new cases and legislative efforts. See something we missed? Send us an email.

Roll over a state to find out more information. For a static image of this map, click here.

This article was updated on June 25, 2014.

Stephanie Stamm contributed to this article