In a brief filed in a federal case challenging Utah's ban on gay marriage, the state argued that it has a sovereign right to define and regulate marriage.

Three gay couples sued the state in federal court after being denied a marriage license. They are asking the judge in the case to declare invalid Amendment 3, the state's 2004 constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.

In its response to the complaint filed this week, the Utah Attorney General's Office argued that marriage is not a constitutionally protected right or liberty for gay couples.

“Utah's recognition of marriage as only the legal union between a man and a woman does not violate the U.S. Constitution,” Salt Lake City's the Deseret News reported the brief as stating.

State Senator Jim Debakis, an openly gay Democratic lawmaker and well-known activist, called the state's position “disingenuous.”

“This is clearly a tortured position for our highest elected officials to carry. There may be disagreements on gay marriage, but it is disingenuous for the attorney general and the governor to say Utah's marriage ban does not discriminate,” Debakis said.

“Of course it does. Our elected officials should have the guts to say the truth. That is, the marriage ban discriminates and they favor that discrimination,” he added.

The case was filed after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which led to federal recognition of the marriages of gay couples.