LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A federal appeals court struck down on Wednesday a ban on gay weddings in Utah, the latest US state to allow same-sex marriages following a landmark Supreme Court decision last year.
The 10th Circuit court of appeals ruled that the 14th Amendment of the US constitution "protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children, and enjoy the full protection of a state's marital laws.
"A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage licence to two persons, or refuse to recognise their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union," added a three-judge panel in a 2-1 ruling.
But the court blocked its ruling from taking effect pending an appeal, eventually to the Supreme Court. The Denver-based 10th Circuit appeals court covers Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
It was the latest twist in a legal battle that erupted in December when a federal judge overturned the socially conservative western US state's law banning same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court in January temporarily blocked any further same-sex marriages in Utah after the state filed an emergency request to stay the judge's ruling.
But the United States federal government said days later that it would give full federal backing to hundreds of same-sex marriages in Utah which the state has refused to recognise.
Some 1,300 marriage licences for same-sex couples were issued in the period between the two rulings in Utah, which is home to a large Mormon population.
The Utah move follows a string of similar rulings striking down gay marriage bans in other US states, including Oregon, Idaho, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
A landmark Supreme Court decision last June found that couples in same-sex marriages were entitled to the same benefits and protections as their heterosexual counterparts.
Marriage laws are governed by individual US states, more than 30 of which still ban same-sex weddings.