WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday put same-sex marriages on hold in Utah, at least while a federal appeals court more fully considers the issue.
In a simple statement, the Court announced that, "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 grants an emergency appeal by the state following the Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby that the state's ban on same-sex marriage violates gay and lesbian couples' constitutional rights.
More than 900 gay and lesbian couples have married since then.
The high court order will remain in effect until the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether to uphold Shelby's ruling.
The state's request to the Supreme Court was filed with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from Utah and the five other states in the 10th Circuit. Sotomayor turned the matter over to the entire court.
The action now shifts to Denver, where the appeals court will consider arguments from the state against same-sex marriage as well as from the three gay and lesbian couples who challenged the ban in support of Shelby's ruling. The appeals court had twice rebuffed the state's plea to stop gay weddings pending appeal.
Utah changed its constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage in 2004.
Nearly two-thirds of Utah's 2.8 million residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mormons dominate the state's legal and political circles. The Mormon church was one of the leading forces behind California's short-lived ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8.118 comments on this story
Though the church has softened its stance toward gays and lesbians in recent years, the church still teaches that homosexual activity is a sin and stands by its support for "traditional marriage." Church officials say they hope a higher court validates its belief that marriage is between a man and woman.
"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," Lyle Denniston wrote at scotusblog.com. "Had it refused the state's request for delay, that would have at least left the impression that the Court was comfortable allowing same-sex marriages to go forward in the 33 states where they are still banned."
More information will be provided as the story develops.
Contributing: Eric Schulzke