TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) - A handful of same-sex couples married in Pima County on Friday within hours of a federal judge striking down the state's discriminatory ban on the practice.
One of the final holdout Western states on the issue, Arizona can no longer deny same-sex couples the right to marry, and must recognize such marriages from other states, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick ruled.
"Defendants are hereby ordered to permanently cease enforcement of those provisions of Arizona law declared unconstitutional by this order," the four-page opinion filed Thursday night and appearing early Friday morning states.
Pima County Superior Court, in Arizona's second-largest city Tucson, issued six or seven marriage licenses since this morning, clerk Toni Hellon said around lunchtime.
A small crowd gathered in front of the courthouse at around 2 p.m. included several same-sex couples showing off their newly minted marriage licenses and posing for pictures with U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, an Arizona Democrat who co-sponsored the Respect for Marriage Act and called for the repeal of so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
One of the couples, Steven Kraynak and Robert Gordon, have been together for 16 years, they said in an interview.
Having been expecting the ruling against Arizona's ban to come down any day, the couple said they immediately called the courthouse and made plans to get married today when they heard about the fall of the ban this morning.
"I took a shower and we got right down here," Kraynak said.
The couple had already been in a celebratory mood to mark Kraynak's 66th birthday today, they said.
In striking down Arizona's ban, Judge Sedwick cited the 9th Circuit's recent finding that "substantially identical provisions of Nevada and Idaho law that prohibit same-sex marriages are invalid because they deny same-sex couples equal protection of the law, the right to marry which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States."
"This court is bound by decisions of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit," Sedwick wrote. "For that reason, plaintiffs are entitled to a declaration that the challenged laws are unconstitutional together with a permanent injunction prohibiting enforcement of the challenged laws."
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said Friday that an appeal would be a "waste" of taxpayer money.
"Both the federal District Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled against us, and the United States Supreme Court has shown an unwillingness to accept review in the case of three other circuits in essentially identical circumstances," Horne said in a statement.
Horne said that he sent word Friday to Arizona's 15 county clerks that they may "issue licenses for same sex marriages immediately."
Darcey Spears and Pat Reddemann, Tucson residents who were married last year in California, passed out homemade cup cakes at the Tucson courthouse to celebrate the ruling.
Together 25 years, the couple said they are relieved that Arizona now recognizes their marriage.
"Even aside from the practical considerations, it means that we are married" in Arizona, Spears said.
"It means that we can now access each other's hospital room," Redemann added.
Several members of the local clergy were also on hand in front of the courthouse, offering couples quick ceremonies.
"We are here as a physical reminder that there are religious voices of love," the Rev. Owen Chandler, senior minister with Saguaro Christian Church in Tucson, said.
Sedwick's ruling had made mention of the Supreme Court's recent refusal to weigh in on rulings that canceled same-sex marriage bans in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Equality Arizona represented some of the same-sex couples challenging Arizona's ban who were either married in a different state or wished to get married in Arizona. That advocacy group's co-chairs, Catherine Alonzo and Nathan Rhoton, applauded the ruling as "an incredible day for our state and for our community."
"Our efforts to achieve marriage equality are part of our efforts to gain full equality for all," they said in a statement.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, decried the ruling as a federal overstep.
She said that the decision "thwarted the will of the people and further eroded the authority of states to regulate and uphold our laws."
"It is not only disappointing, but also deeply troubling, that unelected federal judges can dictate the laws of individual states, create rights based on their personal policy preferences and supplant the will of the people in an area traditionally left to the states for more than two hundred years," Brewer said in a statement.
Attorney General Eric Holder meanwhile announced Friday that the U.S. government will recognize marriages in those states and " will work with agencies across the administration to ensure that all applicable federal benefits are extended to those couples as soon as possible."
"We will not delay in fulfilling our responsibility to afford every eligible couple, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, the full rights and responsibilities to which they are entitled," Holder said in a statement. "With their long-awaited unions, we are slowly drawing closer to full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans nationwide."
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