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Herbert says if Utah law protected same-sex marriage, he'd defend it in court

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SALT LAKE CITY — If Utah had a law protecting same-sex marriages and the law was challenged in court, Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he'd defend it just as he's defending the state's same-sex marriage ban.

The Republican governor said at his monthly televised news conference on KUED-TV Thursday that his personal views on the issue are not relevant because as governor, it's his job to defend the state's laws.

"I'm not ambivalent but my personal opinion on it doesn't matter today," Herbert said. "The people have spoken. It's on the books."

Herbert, who has said he supports the ban, made the comments a day after a federal appeals court in Denver ruled Utah's same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled 2-1 Wednesday that states cannot deprive someone of a fundamental right to marry simply because they choose a partner of the same sex. The court said arguments that allowing gay couples to marry could somehow undermine traditional marriages is "wholly illogical."

The ruling upheld a December ruling from a lower court that overturn Utah's gay marriage ban, which voters approved in 2004.

The Utah attorney general's office has said it plans to appeal and is determining whether to go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court or ask the full 10th Circuit Court to review the ruling.

Herbert on Thursday reiterated earlier comments that state officials should not pick and choose what laws they enforce, as several state attorneys general in other states have announced they won't defend their state's same-sex marriage bans.

The governor said Thursday that while prosecutors have discretion when pursuing cases or appealing a ruling, the marriage ban "is a very significantly important, constitutional issue" and "a landmark case."

PHOTO: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during a news conference Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in Salt Lake City. A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled for the first time that states must allow gay couples to marry, finding the Constitution protects same-sex relationships and putting a remarkable legal winning streak across the country one step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court. Herbert said he was disappointed with the panel's decision and believes states should determine their own laws regarding same-sex marriage. He hopes the high court will rule on the issue to provide clarity. "We can't get finality and final resolution unless the Supreme Court hears the case and makes a decision," Herbert said at a news conference. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during a news conference Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in Salt Lake City. A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled for the first time that states must allow gay couples to marry, finding the Constitution protects same-sex relationships and putting a remarkable legal winning streak across the country one step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court. Herbert said he was disappointed with the panel's decision and believes states should determine their own laws regarding same-sex marriage. He hopes the high court will rule on the issue to provide clarity. "We can't get finality and final resolution unless the Supreme Court hears the case and makes a decision," Herbert said at a news conference. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

"This is not just your average, everyday lawsuit out there," Herbert said. "This is one I think needs to be taken to its conclusion."

Herbert also repeated his belief that the state should pursue the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Only a ruling from the high court will resolve the differences of opinion on the issue, he said.

Herbert said he didn't know how the Supreme Court would rule on the issue should it hear the Utah case.

"We can speculate and suppose what the outcome will be but we don't know," he said. "I expect if we get to the Supreme Court it will be a split decision again. How it will come down, who knows?"

If the high court rules against Utah, the state will abide by that decision.

"Who knows what will happen after that, but once a law becomes the law of the land, my job is to enforce it and support," he said.

He said the state has already anticipated and budgeted for a need to defend the law before the Supreme Court and the cost of the defense won't be an issue.


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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: Plaintiffs Moudi Sbeity, right, and his partner Derek Kitchen, one of three couples who brought the lawsuit against Utah's gay marriage ban, walk with other plaintiffs after arriving for a news conference in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 25, 2014. On Wednesday, June 25, 2014, a federal appeals court in Denver ruled that states must allow gay couples to marry, finding the Constitution protects same-sex relationships. The decision from a three-judge panel in Denver upheld a lower court ruling that struck down Utah's gay marriage ban. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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