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DENVER (AP) - Judges on a federal appeals court panel appeared sharply divided in their questions to attorneys at a hearing over whether to uphold a lower court's ruling that struck down Utah's gay marriage ban.

The swing vote in the case appears to be Judge Jerome Holmes, who had pointed questions for both sides. He compared Utah's same-sex marriage ban to Virginia's ban on interracial marriages that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1967.

But Holmes also challenged the plaintiff's attorneys to explain why the state's voters should be prevented from defining marriage the way they want.

Utah's lawyer said the state has the authority to define marriage in a traditional way even though other states have defined it differently.

The plaintiffs' lawyers argued that Utah's gay-marriage ban clearly singled out gays for unequal treatment, which is forbidden by the Constitution.

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