January 6th, 2014
10:38 AM ET
11 months ago

Supreme Court puts hold on same-sex marriages in Utah

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)


Filed under: Same-sex marriage • Supreme Court • Utah
soundoff (569 Responses)
  1. Jimboe

    Finally, the beginning of the end of this.

    This only goes one way. Equality for all. End of Story.

    January 6, 2014 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  2. skarphace

    Mike Teall

    The Catholic Church wiill never marry a gay couple. That would be a sacriledge. The Sacrament of marriage is between God , a man and a woman. It would destroy the church but that;s what the LGBO community wants anyways and the left wing. To force their ideologies on others even though they don't support it.

    ----

    Wrong. Marriage is a civil contract and therefore has nothing to do with God. In addition, it was DOMA (passed in the 90s) that defined marriage as between a man and a woman and the SCOTUS already ruled that unconsti tutional. Get with the times or be on the wrong side of history.

    January 6, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  3. skarphace

    Thomas E

    The government has no right in a religious ceremony. Marriage is a RELIGOUS concept. However, the government can issue civil licenses for unions for tax purposes.

    ---

    You live in a fantasy land. Marriage is defined by law as a civil contract. You may not like this fact, but it is still a fact.

    January 6, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  4. sftommy

    What God has brought together let the "high courts" of men try to deny to their hearts content.

    January 6, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  5. Chris

    @skarphace
    The very day that prop 8 won for a second time in California. The media was reporting that SSM was favored by most Americans. I think that Frank is actually correct. The media just does like that fact.

    January 6, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  6. Bob Dealin'

    I WANT FREEDOM
    the kind they promised me
    just for living in this country

    January 6, 2014 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  7. Silence DoGood

    @skarphace
    Mike Teall

    We live in a democracy the people of UTAH should vote as to what they want. Not be forced by a supreme court. This is how civil wars start.

    --

    Again, you have it backwards. Laws prohibiting gay marriage amount to the federal government telling the churches who they can or cannot marry, not the other way around. If you want "freedom of religion", then you should not support laws prohibiting gay marriage. Individual churches should decide for themselves who they perform the ceremony for and the civil contract should be defined by civil law, which means based on the Consti tution.
    -----–
    And that is the precise issue. Radical Right Christian groups do not want Freedom. They say Freedom of Religion because it would sound really bad to say what they really mean: They want a Christian Country Theocarcy. You have to be suspect of a movement that needs to lie about its purpose.

    January 6, 2014 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  8. Big_D

    So if Clarence Thomas has a conservative PAC how can he vote on anything without a conflict of interest?

    January 6, 2014 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  9. vbscript2

    The better question: Why is the government involved in telling people whether they can or cannot consider themselves or must or must not consider some other group of people to be married in the first place? Also, why does the government grant any special benefits or penalties to people because they do or do not consider themselves to be married? Since marriage is something that is intrinsically tied to religious beliefs for a large percentage (probably a good majority) of the population and those beliefs vary widely, it is not possible for the government to define it without stepping on someone's first amendment rights. The solution, then, is for the government to get out of the business of defining marriage entirely. If two (or more) people wish to enter into a contractual relationship granting mutual property rights, power of attorney, etc., they should have every right to do so regardless of whether or not they consider themselves to be married, let alone whether anyone else considers them to be so. As far as domestic violence laws are concerned, those should apply equally to all domestic situations, regardless of whether any of the people involved consider themselves to be married or not.

    January 6, 2014 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  10. mozrox

    @Mike Teall – No one is trying to force the Catholic Church to perform gay marriages. That's not what this is about. We are, however, trying to force the religious right OUT of our bedrooms and out of our lives and to get their grubby hands off of our laws, which are secular for a reason, to ensure protection includes all, not some.

    January 6, 2014 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  11. skarphace

    Tipper

    The Moral outcome is simple – Marriage is between a man and a woman! Two men cannot make a baby, two women can not make a baby! if you cannot figure that out – you need to return to first grade!!

    ----

    That is not the law. There is no wording in the civil contract which is marriage that says that the couple getting married must be able to copulate, much less reproduce. Otherwise, couples where one partner is barren would not be able to marry. People beyond a certain age would not be able to marry. In addition, if that were the law, then you would have to copulate before marriage to prove that you can reproduce with your partner. This is clearly not the case.

    January 6, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  12. Thomas E

    @Sharkphace You have a good poiint but all those things you mentioned are not consensual and/or with people or animals that cannot give consent.

    January 6, 2014 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  13. pogojo

    Separation of church and state, get government out of marriage

    January 6, 2014 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  14. mozrox

    @sftommy – Who's God? Yours? You want impose your deity's rules on our secular laws? Keep it in your church and out of everyone else's lives.

    January 6, 2014 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  15. Jack

    There is something for everyone. Marriage is a civil contract recognized by the State. If a particular religion does not want to marry same-sex couples they won't have to. They are not required to honor same-sex marriages. The State,however, can honor same-sex marriages. Everybody wins. Gays get to marry and religions, who don't believe in this, don't have to marry same-sex couples. What's the problem?

    January 6, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  16. Julian

    Evolution legislates agains homosexuality.

    January 6, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  17. sftommy

    Is SCOTUS insisting religions that believe in same sex marriage are not as entitled to government recognition as religions that don't. What business does any court have in denying a covenant with God in the legal arena?

    Court has no business stepping on anyone's First Amendment Rights!

    January 6, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  18. GOP = Greed Over People

    This is easily solved, repeal the 1700+ Federal laws that favor "marriage", however, you define it.

    January 6, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  19. skarphace

    Chris

    @skarphace
    The very day that prop 8 won for a second time in California. The media was reporting that SSM was favored by most Americans. I think that Frank is actually correct. The media just does like that fact.

    ----–

    In case you weren't paying attention, Prop 8 was thrown out along with DOMA by the SCOTUS, and for the same reasons why this law in UTAH will also be ruled unconsti tutional.

    January 6, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  20. Firegazer1

    As I've said in the past; same sex marriage is not an equal right it's an additional right. Everyone already has equal rights; which are to marry the opposite sex. Marrying the same sex is not an equal right issue; it's an additional rights issue. Whether or not you support this is another matter.

    January 6, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  21. DeeBee

    @ vbscript2

    "The solution, then, is for the government to get out of the business of defining marriage entirely. If two (or more) people wish to enter into a contractual relationship granting mutual property rights, power of attorney, etc., they should have every right to do so regardless of whether or not they consider themselves to be married, let alone whether anyone else considers them to be so."

    -----------------–

    This is fine sentiment, but the reality is different. There is an entire body of cases involving gay couples that have done exactly what you suggest. Then, when one partner dies, the other couple finds him or herself in court, fighting with their partner's family for what was contractually promised. And in several cases, judges have bought the argument that the family holds greater power and nullified the contract. Contracts can be nullified and are frequently done so under common law recognition of the rights of other stakeholders, including family. Marriage grants a much more powerful recognition of contractual obligations.

    January 6, 2014 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  22. skarphace

    sftommy

    What God has brought together let the "high courts" of men try to deny to their hearts content.

    ----

    Exactly why the civil contract which is marriage does not require a religious ceremony. The two are separate acts.

    January 6, 2014 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  23. Fair is Fair

    "Marriage is defined by law as a civil contract. You may not like this fact, but it is still a fact."
    ------
    It is indeed. So in a nation that has a separation of church and state, should all marriages performed in places of worship be declared null and void?

    January 6, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  24. Sotomayer has no courage WHATSOEVER

    This is a travesty.

    January 6, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  25. skarphace

    pogojo

    Separation of church and state, get government out of marriage

    ----

    Again, and again, and again I have to point out: marriage is a civil contract, not a religious contract. Get government out of marriage ceremonies performed by the church? That I would agree with, but that would mean that all laws prohibiting churches from deciding for themselves who they perform marriage ceremonies for are banned. This is where we are headed, but it is taking a very long time to get there.

    January 6, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
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