SALT LAKE CITY – The U.S. Supreme Court granted Utah’s request to halt same-sex marriages Monday in the wake of a federal ruling striking down Utah’s ban on such marriages. As for the status of same-sex marriages that have taken place since the initial ruling, the Utah Attorney General’s office said they are currently in a state of “legal limbo.”
Last week the Utah Attorney General’s Office appealed to the Supreme Court for the emergency stay of a Dec. 20, 2013 ruling by federal district Judge Robert Shelby. Shelby struck down Utah’s voter-approved Amendment 3, which only recognizes marriage as being between one man and one woman, as unconstitutional. In the wake of the ruling hundreds of same-sex couples across the state rushed to county clerks’ offices for marriage licenses.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office appealed to Shelby to put a stay on his ruling until the state could appeal the ruling as a whole. Shelby denied the request, as did the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals when the state appealed to it. It was at this point that newly-appointed Attorney General Sean Reyes sent a request for a stay to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The request went to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who receives and reviews appeals to 10th Circuit Court rulings. She referred the request to the Supreme Court as a whole. The Supreme Court approved the stay in a brief decision that granted an emergency halt to same-sex marriages. The high court has not yet issued a statement as to why it approved the state’s request.
“The ruling can be interpreted as an indication that the court wants to have further exploration in lower courts of the basic constitutional question of state power to limit marriage to a man and a woman,” wrote Lyle Denniston on the SCOTUS blog. “Had it refused the state’s request for delay, that would have left at least the impression that the court was comfortable allowing same-sex marriages to go forward in the 33 states where they are still not permitted by state law.”
“The Supreme Court has made the correct decision,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement on the matter. “I firmly believe this is a states-rights issue and I will work to defend the position of the people of Utah and our state constitution.”
As to the current status of the hundreds of same-sex marriages already conducted in the state – an estimated 950 according to the SCOTUS blog – it is uncertain. During a press conference following the high court’s granting the stay, newly-appointed Attorney General Sean Reyes said the marriages are currently in “legal limbo” and that the attorney general’s office will be evaluating the legal fate of such unions.
“Clearly, a stay should have been granted with the original district court decision in order to have avoided the uncertainty by this unprecedented change,” Herbert said.
The stay restores Amendment 3 as the law of the land, at least for now pending a final decision by the federal courts once an appeal is heard.
Briefing for the case is scheduled to begin on Jan. 27 and is to be completed by Feb. 25. Reyes said his office and the lawyers representing the same-sex couples who originally brought the suit to court are working together to expedite the process.
The attorney general’s office has put out a request for proposal – a bid in a sense – for outside counsel to aid it in its appeal. An early estimate of the cost to see the appeal through has been set at $2 million. Reyes said in the press conference that the amount is preliminary. The appeals process could cost below that number or exceed it.
Though the governor and attorney general are happy with the Supreme Court’s decision, others are not.
“Despite today’s decision, we are hopeful that the lower court’s well-reasoned decision will be upheld in the end and that courts across the country will continue to recognize that all couples should have the freedom to marry,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project.
John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, said the state should honor those marriage that have already taken place.
“Though future marriages are on hold for now,” Mejia said, “the state should recognize as valid those marriages that have already been issued, and those couples should continue to be treated as married by the federal government.”
The ALCU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Utah case and other cases involving challenges to same-sex marriage bans in other states.
- Utah appeals to U.S. Supreme Court to halt same-sex marriages
- Tenth Circuit denies Utah’s appeal for stay on same-sex marriage ruling
- Same-sex marriages take place as couples rush to county clerk’s office
- County issues first marriage licenses to same-sex couples
- Federal judge strikes down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban
- High court defers marriage question to states
- ON Kilter: The gay marriage debate is over
- On the EDge: Utah stance on marriage is hard to swallow
- Urquhart to reintroduce LGBT antidiscrimination bill
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