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Gay marriage catches conservative Utah off guard

BY MICHELLE L. PRICE
ASSOCIATED PRESS

SALT LAKE CITY -- A day after a judge's surprise ruling overturned Utah's same-sex marriage ban, at least one county clerk intended to open early Saturday to issue licenses.

About 40 minutes north of Salt Lake City, about 300 hundred people showed up at the Weber County Clerk's Office on Saturday afternoon but were later turned away without marriage licenses.

Clerk Ricky Hatch apologized and said that county officials had told him that opening for special circumstances may violate constitutional guarantees of equal protection. Hatch told The Associated Press he was also told that the county's standard security requirements were not in place for a Saturday opening.

The confusion Saturday and reports of other crowds scrambling to find an open office illustrated how gay marriage caught many in Utah off guard.

On Friday, more than 100 couples rushed to wed in Salt Lake County shortly after the ruling was released. State officials slammed the decision and moved to stop licenses from being issued.

The state has given notice that it will appeal the ruling and has asked for an emergency stay to stop gay couples from getting marriage licenses. But legal experts say that even if a stay is granted, the licenses that have already been issued will likely still be valid.

For now, a state considered as one of the most conservative in the nation has joined the likes of California and New York to become the 18th state where same-sex couples can legally wed.

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