Hundreds of couples have been married since U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled Dec. 20 that the state’s ban on such unions violated constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. But Utah said each marriage was an “affront” to the state’s ability to define marriage as only between and man and a woman, and asked the high court to intervene.
Both Shelby and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver had denied the state’s request for a stay. The appeals court in Denver has put review of Shelby’s decision on a fast track.
But the Supreme Court, in a short order, said Shelby’s ruling should be stayed while the appeals continue. Utah’s request was made to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is designated to handle emergency requests that originate in the 10th Circuit. She referred the matter to the entire court, which issued the stay without discussion or recorded dissent.
Shelby’s ruling presents a question — whether state bans on same-sex marriage violate an individual’s constitutional rights — that the Supreme Court sidestepped when it delivered landmark decisions on gay marriage in June.
Utah did not ask the court to tackle that issue now, but wanted to stop the marriages while the appeals continue.
The state's appeal will be heard in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in Denver.
Utah had been the first red state to effectively legalize gay marriage. Social conservatives cheered the ruling.
“The decision by a single federal judge to redefine marriage in Utah is lawless, and we are pleased that the Supreme Court has put this decision on hold to allow the state to appeal it in an orderly fashion," said Brian Brown, who is head of the National Organization for Marriage.