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)
Their every effort at stomping on the civil rights of others speeds the demise of their silly superstitious cults. They wonder why I have no respect for them and their beliefs? This is why. They need to pay attention to the fact that being a meddlesome, arrogant, superstitious fool will earn the ire of civilized society. They deserve my ridicule and my utter disgust.
I wish they would enforce the other side of their marriage definition of one man and ONE woman. Do you know how many of the multiwife marrriages with kids collect federal benefits.
Civil unions I feel are ok, marriage, sorry but not ok... Well, well, where do they go from here? We will have to wait on Denver to find out whats next...
Haters will be haters. Gays hate it when other people actually vote their conscience.
I hope the Supreme Court upholds Utah's rights... But I doubt they will.
I'm not even sure why the anti-marriage equality people keep trying. They'll keep wasting the state's time and money to appeal, all in a vain attempt to cement their religious beliefs into law despite the precedent that has already been set...which is not in their favor.
Kudos to you for the valiant dedication to your lost cause though conservatives – nobody knows how to go down in flames better than those who truly believe their cause of discrimination and intolerance is righteous and just!
Yea, Yea the mormons did the same thing in Prop 8 in CA, and they lost. AND they will lose this time also
Maybe the court can now rule on how magnets work...Magic?
Utah granted full voting rights to women in 1870, 26 years before becoming a state. Among all U.S. states, only Wyoming granted suffrage to women earlier.
All the anti Utah posts. May I remind you that your wonderfully forward thinking California voted to ban gay marriage.
If the state passed a law all ppl 75 & older MUST work for free was voted & passed. Does it make it right & lawful? The judge needs to follow the letter of the law that is right. Being prudent & through is the right thing to do. Keep ur religious craziness in ur church, synoge, temple & whatever where it belongs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
@Mitchyj – Actually polygamy is illegal in Utah. What you stated about being able to have five wives in Utah is untrue
So did marriages, and the holy sacrament of marriage exist prior to the forming of this country and its government? Of course it did. Therefore our government has no right to redefine the meaning of marriage to include anything but a union between a man and a woman. If they want to recognize such unions, they are free to do so but must and should call them Gay Unions or something besides marriage.
For government to trample of religion and a sacrament like this is an absolute intrusion on freedom of religion in this country.
The reason why we have an independent judiciary is precisely for reasons like this: a referendum on a topic like this in a state that has an overwhelming majority of LDS is not an expression of how our country operates as a whole. No one is demanding that gay couples be sealed in the SLC temple. Its a question of fairness before the law, something that conservatives used to appreciate.
The mindless and cruel, systematic oppression of gay people in the United States is a national disgrace and makes "The Land of the Free" into a cruel joke for many. Thankfully, things are changing for the better, but the bigots will continue their war on freedom for as long as possible. They will lose, however.
I "personally" don't believe in gay marriage, but who am I to tell someone else what they can and can't do. I do still want someone to explain to me how gay marriage will "hurt" traditional families................they are not going to be traditional anyway. And it is NOT going to do ANYTHING to my family. Basically, I just don't care what people do with their "own" lives. I would not want anyone to vote on my life and I don't want to vote on anyone elses lives. By voting on it, are we now doing what we criticize the gay community of doing........pushing OUR lifestyle and beliefs on others?
Just because a state accepts it, does NOT mean I have to accept it. My beliefs are mine I don't condone it, but who am I to judge. That's left up to God. I just thinks it opens a "can of worms". What if someone doesn't like interracial marriage? Wasn't that considered "pushing a lifestyle" at one point? What's to stop someone from bringing that up to a vote? There are still quite a few people who do not "believe" in that,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
@Rudy- So you say its wrong for the majority to dictate rights to the minority? So now you think universal backgrounds checks are wrong? Can`t have it both ways.
@mitchyj – I suggest that you visit Utah. Ski season is great. Utah in summer is perfect for rafting, biking, or hiking. Now, Texas, that's another story.
Yay! There's still a chance we might be able to stick our noses into other people's business! Let freedom ring.
There is nothing alarming about this decision. They did the same thing in California during the whole Prop 8 fiasco.
This is nothing more than an unfortunate delay.
It's not fait to LGBT citizens, but it is better to allow the judicial process to take its proper course.
In the end, we already know who wins. Justice for LGBT people will win.
The Constitution already tells us this.
Good for Utah and the US. This Country is full of enough degeneracy we don't need anymore than we already have. Another set back for GLAAD is a win for real Americans!!
No matter what side you're on it is important that we see this is how government is supposed to work. Checks and balances on everything.
So any judge at any level that issues any ruling disagreeing with your preconceived bigoted opinions is now an "activist judge". God, the GOP disgusts me. Some days I want to give up on this country.
@cyngar – Yes, CA voted in favor of Prop 8, by a narrow margin. If LDS money had not flowed from Utah to CA, it never would have passed.
I find it odd that someone feels they have the right to tell someone else who they can marry.
In other news, the official notification that the earth is not flat, and is indeed, round, has been postponed again by the right wing Christians.
Folks – y'all can try and block progress as hard as you want, but as we all know – you are losers, and gay marriage is a winner. It's history dudes ... get over it.
(And yes ... the earth really is round...)