PHOENIX — Four Arizona same-sex couples are challenging Arizona's definition of marriage as between only one man and one woman.
Their federal class-action lawsuit, filed Monday, echoes arguments used in a challenge to Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.
The Utah case was thrown into legal limbo Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court halted same-sex marriages there while the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers the arguments.
"We are asking for relief on behalf of all married and unmarried same-sex couples in Arizona," lawyer Shawn Aiken said. "Now is the time to take up this issue."
The Arizona couples' complaint argues that the federal courts must declare unconstitutional Arizona's definition of marriage based on the Supreme Court ruling last year in United States vs. Windsor that deemed unconstitutional the denial of federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
"We're saying, 'Look, follow that rationale and make the same declaration as to the law in Arizona,'" Aiken said. "It's that simple."
Under that ruling, same-sex couples who married legally in other states and live in Arizona now have varying access to federal benefits, but the state still does not recognize their marriages.
The couples in the Arizona case are Joseph Connolly and Terrel Pochert, a Pinal County couple who have been together 18 years and were legally married in California in 2008; Suzanne Cummins and Holly Mitchell, a Maricopa County couple who have been together for seven years and have two children adopted through the state's foster-care system; Clark Rowley and David Chaney, a Maricopa County couple who have been together for five years; and Mason Hite and Christopher Devine, a Maricopa County couple who have been together for 11 years, were legally married in California in 2008 and have a child adopted through the state's foster-care system.
Phoenix is located in Maricopa County, which is Arizona's most populated county; Pinal County adjoins Maricopa County and is between Phoenix and Tucson.
Arizona is among 32 states that define marriage as between one man and one woman. The definition was established in Arizona statute in 1996, and voters amended the Arizona Constitution to include the definition in 2008.
Aiken said the Arizona case is one of 25 filed in 16 states challenging laws that restrict same-sex couples from marrying.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative advocacy group that led the push to define marriage in Arizona, said her organization's lawyers will watch the case closely.
"Throughout this country, those in favor of same-sex marriage are trying to obtain through the courts what they have not been able to obtain by a vote of the people," Herrod said. "We would hope the courts would defer to the Arizona voters that clearly defined marriage as only being between one man and one woman."
The Arizona Court of Appeals in 2003 upheld Arizona's definition of marriage. Herrod declined to predict what the courts might do a decade later, but she said she believes Arizonans still support the constitutional definition they passed.
Gov. Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said Monday night that they could not comment on litigation they hadn't yet received. Horne spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said they were reviewing the lawsuit.
The Supreme Court justices Monday did not rule on the merits of the Utah case or on same-sex marriage bans in general, leaving both sides confident they ultimately will win. The decision stays in effect while the 10th Circuit considers the long-term question of whether gay couples have a right to wed in Utah.
Utah state officials praised Monday's decision to put a hold on things, saying it should have come earlier. Two previous courts turned down their request for a stay.
"Clearly, the stay should have been granted with the original District Court decision in order to have avoided the uncertainty created by this unprecedented change," Gov. Gary Herbert said.
Many believe the Supreme Court will settle the issue for good. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said the court's decision indicates an interest in Utah's case, and he hopes the justices issue a final answer.
Others doubt the high court will step in any time soon. In June, the justices decided not to weigh in on the constitutionality of defining marriage as being between a man and woman, relying instead on a technical legal argument to resolve the issue in California and clear the way for same-sex marriage in the state.
For 17 days, Utah was the 18th state to allow gay couples to wed. More than 1,000 couples flocked to county clerks' offices, marrying on courthouse steps in darkness and celebrating a judge's decision that the 2004 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in the state was unconstitutional.
It was a surprising development in a state where nearly two-thirds of the 2.8 million residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mormons dominate the state's legal and political circles. Though the church has softened its stance toward gays and lesbians in recent years, it still teaches that homosexual activity is a sin and stands by its support for "traditional marriage."
U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby's ruling Dec. 20 overturning the state's ban was the first from a federal judge to overturn a state marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions on same-sex marriage in June.
The justices at that time struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prevented legally married gay and lesbian couples from receiving a range of tax, health, pension and other federal benefits.
On the same day, the court left in place a trial court's decision that struck down California's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Contributing: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and The Associated Press