In a major defeat for proponents of traditional marriage, a U.S. appeals court has struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage and ruled that any couple, regardless of sexual orientation, has the right to marry, CNN reports.
"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 majority opinion from the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said.
"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 court continued.
The three judge panel immediately stayed its 2-1 decision Wednesday until the issue can be heard by the U.S. Supreme court. However, the ruling gives significant momentum for the Supreme court to decide whether homosexuals have the constitutional right to marry.
Many plaintiffs in the case were thrilled with the decision.
"I'm sort of speechless," said plaintiff Laurie Wood according to the Denver Post, who married her partner immediately after a federal judge struck down Utah's marriage ban in December. "It's everything in the ruling that we had hoped for."
Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in the District of Columbia and 19 states, including California, Conneticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Advocates of traditional marriage have expressed disappointment at the ruling.
"This is a sad day for the church," says Rev. Ronald Ernst of Grace Reformed Baptist in Salt Lake City. "God's people need to stand firm for truth in the face of adversity."
Judith Forrester, a Family Life Counselor in the city, says the ruling marks the demise of the traditional family.
"This is just the beginning," she said. "You simply can't destroy the definition of something as sacred and God-ordained as marriage. This ruling flies in the face of the Creator and will eventually lead to the destruction of the family as we know it."
Utah's senior senator, Orrin Hatch, also expressed disappointment at the ruling.
"Although I am not surprised by today's decision, I disagree with the court's reasoning and hope the Supreme Court ultimately adheres to the original understanding of the Constitution and allows each state to define marriage for itself," he stated.