- Associated Press - Thursday, June 26, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - 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.”

“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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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice

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