Supreme Court Puts Utah Gay Marriage On Hold

The US Supreme Court has temporarily blocked gay marriage in Utah.

On December 20, US District Judge Robert Shelby tossed out Utah’s ban on gay marriage in a case filed by three same-sex couples, and about 1,000 such marriages have been performed since then. Utah had filed an emergency appeal with the US Supreme Court on New Year’s Eve.

The high court, however, has ruled that the state of Utah’s appeal of Shelby’s ruling needs to be heard by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver. In the meantime, no further same-sex marriage licenses will be issued in Utah. The appellate court has agree to speed up the deadlines for the legal filings so that it can hear the case on an expedited basis. Whatever the outcome in the Tenth Circuit, the case will most likely be further appealed to the Supreme Court.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert said that it would have better if Judge Shelby had postponed his decision so as to let the appeals process fully play out first “in order to have avoided the uncertainty created by this unprecedented change.” The legal status of those same-sex couples already married in Utah under Shelby’s ruling is unclear. Utah’s Attorney General Sean Reyes said that his office would evaluate the issue “and will not rush to a decision that impacts Utah citizens so personally.”

In 2004, Utah voters amended the state’s constitution to define marriage is between one man and one women. The amendmment passed with 66 percent of the vote. It went into effect on January 1, 2005.

The legal ramifications of this case could have a profound impact on the status of marriage across the country. Some 33 states prohibit gay marriage and “If the Utah amendment is fully struck down, it would likely mean the same for the rest of the nation.”

Apart from the Utah gay marriage case itself, another question is who, if anyone, should define marriage at the state level, the voters or unelected judges? Last June, the Supreme Court overturned California’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage but “the justices decided not to weigh in on the constitutionality of defining marriage as being between a man and woman, relying instead on a technical legal argument to resolve the issue in California and clear the way for same-sex marriage in the state.”

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