Phoenix: Gay marriage has become legal in Arizona after the state's conservative attorney general said Friday that he wouldn't challenge a federal court decision that cleared the way for same-sex unions in the state.
The announcement prompted gay couples in Phoenix to immediately begin lining up at the downtown courthouse to apply for marriage licenses, and there is no waiting period in Arizona that would delay weddings.
David Larance and Kevin Patterson, who were among the couples who sued to overturn the state's ban, waited in the growing line and reflected on the effect of the ruling. "The best way I can describe it, is that it gives me such peace of mind," Patterson said, choking back tears.
The ruling bookends two weeks of nonstop court decisions across the nation, with judges striking down bans on same-sex unions and conservative state officials pushing back in a struggle that has increasingly gone in favor of gay marriage supporters.
Since October 6 when the US Supreme Court let stand rulings from three appeals courts that struck down bans on gay and lesbian marriages same-sex couples have begun to wed in several new states.
In the West, for example, couples already have tied the knot in Alaska, Idaho and Nevada, making Montana the lone state under the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit Court where same-sex couples have not legally wed.
The federal government, meanwhile, announced Friday morning that it will recognize same-sex marriages in seven new states and extend federal benefits to those couples, which brings the total number of states where gay and lesbian unions have federal recognition to 26, plus the District of Columbia.
Based on the flurry of recent court decisions, including Arizona's ruling today, more than 30 states now extend marriage rights to gay couples, and cases are pending in several others.
Arizona's conservative governor, Jan Brewer, who has clashed with President Barack Obama over immigration and other issues, said in a statement that federal courts have thwarted the will of voters and eroded the state's power to regulate laws.
"Simply put, courts should not be in the business of making and changing laws based on their personal agendas," Brewer said. "It is not the role of the judiciary to determine that same-sex marriages should be allowed."
The decision from US District Judge John Sedwick bars Arizona officials from enforcing a 1996 state law and a 2008 voter-approved constitutional amendment that outlawed gay marriage.