Friday, July 18, 2014 | 9:06 a.m.
DENVER — A federal appeals court on Friday ruled Oklahoma must allow gay couples to wed, marking the second time it has found the U.S. Constitution protects same-sex marriage.
The decision from a three-judge panel in Denver upholds rulings that struck down Oklahoma's gay marriage ban.
The 2-1 ruling comes after the same panel ruled June 25 that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage violates the Constitution. It was the first time an appellate court determined last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act means states cannot deny gays the ability to wed.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel put its Oklahoma and Utah rulings on hold pending an appeal. Utah's attorney general has said he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Gay marriage in the two states will remain on hold.
Still, the decisions give increased momentum to a legal cause that has compiled an impressive string of lower court victories. More than 20 courts have issued rulings siding with gay marriage advocates since the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling in June 2013. The rulings have come in 17 states, with Florida being the latest.
Two of the most striking of those decisions were in conservative Utah and Oklahoma, which saw their voter-approved gay marriage bans struck down in December and January, respectively. In Utah, more than 1,000 same-sex couples married before the Supreme Court issued a stay.
It's unclear whether the two cases will be the first to reach the Supreme Court. The high court could choose from cases moving through five other federal appellate courts, and it won't consider a case until next year at the earliest.
Attorneys representing Utah and Oklahoma argued voters have the right to define marriage in their states, and unions between a man and woman are best for children.
Gay rights lawyers countered that voters cannot define marriage in a way that deprives gay people of their fundamental rights, and say there is no proof that gay couples make inferior parents.
Ten years ago, nearly a dozen states outlawed gay marriage. Now same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and recent polls show a majority of Americans support it.