Gay couples in California may soon be headed to the altar after that state's Supreme Court knocked down a state law banning same-sex marriage.

However, those who follow the national marriage debate say the ruling in the nation's largest state probably won't impact Utah, at least not immediately.

"The short answer is those marriages would not be recognized in Utah," said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

Utah voters, in 2004, approved a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage and other domestic unions.

It was the possibility of a legal challenge in state court that made traditional marriage advocates cite a need for a state constitutional amendment. That amendment was in addition to state law that also bans same-sex unions.

Monte Stewart, president of the Orem-based Marriage Law Foundation, said a legal challenge is more likely to come from a gay couple wed in California than Massachusetts, the nation's first state allowing same-sex marriages. That's because California doesn't have a prohibition against couples from other states wedding there if that marriage is illegal in their state of origin.

"There will now be a flood of recognition cases all across the country," he said. "We would not be surprised to see Utah getting a recognition case or two."

But Stewart isn't worried, because he says the law is clear: "a state does not need to recognize a marriage by a same-sex couple in another state."

Shurtleff says any challenge to Utah's marriage policy will have to come in federal court, and those challenges have already been brought up in other states, as couples wed in Massachusetts have sought recognition of their relationships elsewhere.

"It's well on its way in other jurisdictions," Shurtleff said. "You're now getting these different decisions in different states. That's when the (U.S.) Supreme Court needs to step up and say, 'we've got to decide this.'"

The cases are based on the same constitutional "full faith and credit" provision that requires states to recognize each other's driver licenses.

State Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, says he'd like to see marriage equality but doesn't see it coming through a court challenge. McCoy directed the campaign against Amendment 3 in 2004.

"That has never been used in the 200 years-plus that we've had our constitution to force one state to recognize a marriage from another state," he said. "Utah has clearly stated, and I think wrongly stated, that marriage is between a man and woman and won't recognize a marriage from another state."

McCoy does, however, see a bright side for the nation as a whole. California, the nation's largest state, has influential clout on other states.

"If anything this decision in California will help to establish both in theory and fact that marriage equality is a good thing and not a bad thing," McCoy said. "As that notion plays out in California as it has in Massachusetts, for the last four years, that notion could catch on in other parts of the country."

On the other side, Stewart predicts the California marriage ruling will be short lived. It's expected that voters there will vote on their own constitutional same-sex marriage ban this November.

"Historically, what happens in California reverberates strongly across the nation," he said. "In this case, the decision today will be short lived. It will be corrected by a vote of the people on election day."


E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com