Updated 4:37 p.m. ET, 1/6/2014
(CNN) – The Supreme Court on Monday temporarily blocked same-sex marriage in Utah, an apparently unanimous order in favor of the state that sends the matter back to an appeals court for expedited consideration.
The case could have sweeping national implications, depending on how the federal appeals panel rules on a challenge to the state's same-sex marriage ban and whether the case returns to the high court.
Utah asked the Supreme Court to intervene last week after 10th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to stay a lower court ruling in December striking down Utah's voter-approved prohibition of legal wedlock for gays and lesbians.
Hundreds of people sought marriage licenses following U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby's ruling that said the restriction, approved in 2004, conflicted with the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor received the Utah petition and then asked her colleagues to weigh in.
The court followed up with a two-sentence order without comment that puts same-sex marriages on hold in Utah only.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the Supreme Court made the "correct" decision to stay Shelby's ruling.
"As I have said all along, all Utahns deserve to have this issue resolved through a fair and complete judicial process. I firmly believe this is a state-rights issue and I will work to defend the position of the people of Utah and our State Constitution," he said in a statement.
One question arising from the Supreme Court ruling is the status of those who received marriage licenses after Shelby's ruling. The Utah Attorney General's office put the figure at around 950, but it was not clear how many people actually wed.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes gave no indication on Monday whether the state would try to challenge the validity of those unions.
"There is not clear legal precedence for this particular situation. This is the uncertainty that we were trying to avoid by asking the district court for a stay immediately after its decision. It is very unfortunate that so many Utah citizens have been put into this legal limbo," Reyes said in a statement.
The appeals panel in Denver is expected to consider the case again in coming weeks more thoroughly. A ruling there could affect all states within the court's jurisdiction: Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
More recently, same-sex marriage legal battles have become prominent in states where it is prohibited. But the Utah case is a broad challenge that goes to the heart of constitutional law as it applies to the state ban and could wind up back at the Supreme Court. Same-sex couples say laws like Utah's violate their equal protection and due process rights.
"It could be the challenge that a lot of people have been waiting for, which is does the United States Constitution guarantee a right to marriage for everyone," said CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin. "That's the issue in this case and it's now working its way through the courts. It could take quite some time."
The Supreme Court ruled more narrowly this past summer on separate issues involving same-sex marriage.
It cleared the way for those unions in California to resume and rejected parts of a federal law, concluding same-sex spouses legally married in a state may receive federal benefits.
Most states still ban the practice, but polls show more support for it publicly.
Same-sex advocates look to Shelby's arguments to sway the appeals panel.
"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," Joshua Block, attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
The lawsuit considered by Shelby was brought by one gay and two lesbian couples in Utah who wish to marry but have been unable to do so because of the state ban.
Same-sex marriage is banned by constitutional amendment or state law in: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
It is legal in 17 other U.S states and the District of Columbia: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
The case is Herbert v. Kitchen (13A687)
This is a bad ruling. Objection to gay marriage is religious-based; we are not a theocracy. The establishment clause of the Constitution specifically separates Church and State.
The ban is unconstitutional. Hopefully the people who wanted to get married did so before the injunction took place. That being said, you can't force one groups religious beliefs on all of society. This isn't Iran and the President is no Ayatollah.
I think this is Great!!!! I hope more states do it!!!! Yay for Utah!
Utah passed some portions of Polygamy, but they say no to gay's ???????????????? LOGIC ??? Little backwards guys
"Voters there approved a law banning same-sex marriage in 2004."
I find it to be morally corrupt to allow the majority to decide the rights and priviliges of the minority.
What's the point of having a vote on civil rights issues? I don't understand how majority rule can trump civil rights.
Personally, I'm opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds. But not all people subscribe to my religious beliefs. As a state institution, marriage should be available to everyone. That said, churches should be afforded the protections due to them, that is to say, they should be free to refuse to conduct marriage ceremonies at odds with their beliefs.
another activist judge strikes again, forcing abominations on Utah. Hurrah for this ruling.
This ruling is unfortunate. I had hoped the SCOTUS would ruled against the stay. This decision will certainly put more focus on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Let us hope they expedite the case and the ruling. Then we can watch the SCOTUS battle begin. I hope this is only a slowdown of the eventual decision to make these types of laws unconstitutional throughout the USA.
How sad that belief in a magic man in the sky and make people think they have the ability to tell others how to live...or how not to live.
Marriage is itself a religious institution. I find it ironic that those advocating a "separation of church and state" are the ones so vocally expressing a desire to enter into the religious institution of marriage and using the federal courts to do it.
This will lead to a toppling not only of Utah's unconstitutional law, but those of other states.
I anticipate more than half the states in the country will be onboard with gay marriage by the end of the year.
ThinkAgain, it is mostly hate- or disapproval-based. People only cite the bible because that gives them cover; they know they can't just come out and say they don't like gay people and don't want those people treated with equal dignity and respect under the law.
Judges should not be allowed to overturn a law that the voters wanted.
Really You can have 5 wives but not be married to the same sex? (sarcasm)
Now we will have 3 classes of citizens, just like with California Prop 8, Hetro married, Homo married, and Homo banned from marriage.
Marriage has always had a strong religious component. Now people who are screaming that they don't want government interference in their lives are asking the government to interfer in other peoples lives. Let the churches preform their marriages and let the civil marriages take care of the gay and other different marriages.
SCOTUS the Ridiculous Rides Again : HiYo SCOTUS ! !
The people of the state voted against same-sex marriage. End of story.
Here's the crux of the problem: the idea that anything about gay life can be considered an "affront" to anyone. How dare you be offended by my existence? I mean, haven't we learn anything from what Germany did to people who "affronted" it in the 40s?
The SCOTUS needs to fix this. In their DOMA ruling they basically said that it is up to the States to define marriage. In their Prop 8 ruling they decided that the people of the State of California had no standing to determine for themselves if gays can get married. So in 49 States the people/govt/courts of that State could decide but in CA a federal appeals court would decide. Just horrendous work by the SCOTUS, now they need to clean up their mess. Note, I am not opposed to gays getting married. I am opposed to judicial incompetence.
Gays in Utah can't marry but some men can have any number of wives........hmmm.......
Way to go Utah!
We might as well block interracial marriage while we're at it. OR how about this- block baptists from marrying Catholics! That'll teach 'em!
...why is this even still an issue???
Follow the money!! This is a corrupt and unconstitutional ruling. WE ALL HAVE THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO MARRY WHOMEVER WE WANT - WE ARE ALL EQUAL UNDER THE LAW!! If you want to drag your "god" into a homophobic position - MOVE TO A THEOCRACY, LIKE YEMEN OR AFGHANISTAN!! Absolutely stupid decision that can't possibly stand legally. GAYS OF UTAH – STAY STRONG - WE'VE GOT YOUR BACK!!!!!!
Republicans are always trying to shrink the size of government......until it is just small enough to fit inside your bedroom.