Marriage equality suspended in Utah pending appeals

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On January 6, the Supreme Court blocked same-sex marriages in Utah, pending state officials’ decision regarding an appeal of the ruling.

According to ABC News, the text of the brief order reads:

ORDER IN PENDING CASE 13A687 HERBERT, GOV. OF UT, ET AL. V. KITCHEN, DEREK, ET AL. The application for stay presented to Justice Sotomayor and by her referred to the Court is granted. The permanent injunction issued by the United States District Court for the District of Utah, case No. 2:13-cv-217, on December 20, 2013, is stayed pending final disposition of the appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

The order comes more than two weeks after Salt Lake City’s Judge Robert J. Shelby of the Federal District struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban on December 20, on the grounds that it violated the principles of due process and equal protection. Both he and the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit refused to stay their decisions pending appeals.

The decision made Utah the eighteenth state to legalize marriage equality, and hundreds of couples rushed to marry while they could. Though the stay means no more same-sex marriage licenses will be issued, those who have already legally married will retain that status, at least for the time being.

If Shelby’s ruling is later reversed, it is uncertain what will happen legally. When the same thing happened in California, marriages did remain valid.

The Supreme Court’s brief quoted Utah officials as claiming that the decision should be stayed “to minimize the enormous disruption to the state and its citizens of potentially having to ‘unwind’ thousands of same-sex marriages.” No explanation was given as to why officials waited until December 31 to file, a week after the appeals court declined their request.

In their request for a stay, state officials quoted the United States v. Windsor case; though it is primarily remembered for striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, thus allowing married same-sex couples the federal benefits they had previously been denied, the court’s decision also concluded that establishing the definition of marriage is a decision each state’s politicians are able to make for themselves. 

However, the Utah brief did also admit that the ruling could be used to bolster both sides of the debate.  

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