- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - A federal judge said he will rule by Monday on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to wed in Wyoming, one of the dwindling number of states still fighting to keep gay marriage bans in place.

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl heard arguments Thursday on a lawsuit filed Oct. 7 by four same-sex couples seeking to force Wyoming to allow gay marriage in response to federal court rulings that apply to the state.

Wyoming law defines marriage as between a man and woman.

Attorneys for the same-sex couples who are either married outside Wyoming or want to get married are asking the judge to order the state to stop enforcing the law immediately.

Attorneys for the state say Wyoming wants the chance to defend its law in higher courts and that invalidating the law now will cause administrative problems and confusion.

About 60 spectators listened as both sides presented their arguments to Skavdahl.

Thomas Stoever Jr., an attorney for the same-sex couples, noted that one of Wyoming’s state nicknames is the Equality State.

“If equality means anything it is that people are treated the same regardless of their gender,” Stoever said.

Skavdahl noted that Stoever was asking him to invalidate a law with “a stroke of a pen.”

Stoever responded that leaving the law in place meant denying the constitutional rights of same-sex couples.

But Jared Crecelius, a state assistant attorney general, said striking the state law down now would be “hasty” and result in confusion with regard to issues such as child custody and taxes.

The law should remain in place while Wyoming defends it in higher courts, Crecelius said.

Republican Gov. Matt Mead and other Wyoming officials have defended the law, and county clerks have been unwilling to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Wyoming is among the most conservative states in the country with Republicans holding all three of its congressional seats, all five statewide elected offices and the vast majority of its state legislative seats. But recent court decisions are pushing the issue forward across the nation.

Wyoming’s conservative neighbor Idaho officially began allowing same-sex marriages Wednesday after exhausting legal attempts to stop them.

Underpinning the move toward gay marriages in Wyoming, Idaho and elsewhere is a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to not review several federal court rulings upholding gay marriage as a constitutional right. The cases include one from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Wyoming and five other states.

Citing the Supreme Court decision, Brie Barth and Shelly Montgomery, of Carpenter, applied for a marriage license the day after the Supreme Court decision in Laramie County. But the county clerk declined to issue the license because of the state law.

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