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)
It's such hypocrisy that a state where many religious still practice polygamy, would ban LGBT marriage because it goes against their religion and "against nature." Like I've said for years, "keep your religion out of my bedroom and off my civil rights."
When people are allowed to sue honest, decent business owners because they do not want to participate in your marriage, I lose respect for you situation and feel little sympathy for your plight. The majority wants to infringe on the rights of all who do not agree with them. That is NOT American values! It's about time they stopped legislating from the bench. I hope pigs fly before this is passed.
Why does anyone really have a legal say about who a person marries other than the people that are getting married. What one church has the right over the legalities of marriage ? I am not gay and have been married for over 35 years to one woman and she in a conservative and I am a liberal thinking man and both feel the same way.
Is the state of Utah just a Mormon state or is it a state of many religions ? Why do they have the right to say anything about marriage other than who is married in their church or temple ?
this is not a state's rights issue... it's a federal issue because it's fully tax related :) there is no middle ground here.
Yes! This is the best news this year.
I am glad to see people in this country that respect the will of the people. If the people of Utah has voted against gay marriage, that should be respected. All the gay people have a choice to move else where if they don`t agree with the people of Utah.
What does the phrase "freedom of religion" mean. Does it mean that each religious group should decide for themselves what religious ceremonies they practice as long as they don't break the law? Or does it mean that the federal government should decide what religious ceremonies should be prohibited even if those ceremonies do not break any laws?
Those advocating for repealing the laws that prohibit gay marriage think that it means the former. For some reason, the Christian Right thinks that it means the latter, and I cannot fathom why.
So amusing how when fundamental christians are accused of being anti-gay they defend their stance by proclaiming their love and acceptance of gays and then pass the buck on to their god whose job it is to damn the gays to eternal hell. It follows from this that the fundamental christian who displays unconditional love in the face of their biblical law is actually more steeped in morality than the god they profess to worship... the omnipotent god. Humanity may have a chance yet.
Christians do not hate gays-but we are taught that it is wrong by Jesus himself- the fight is not against the followers of Christ it is with Christ himself- I loved Mayor Koch and some people said he was gay but he kept it to himself and nobody cared-
Despite being for people being able to marry whomever they want, as far as the ruling goes, I actually agree with it. This is such an unexpected and controversial ruling (for those in Utah anyway) that it needs time to go over the review and appeal process. I wish they actually applied this way of thinking to a few other laws.
Tolerance is one thing, promotion is quite another.
The Supreme Court has already ruled that the voters in CA can't take away the right for gays to marry in CA.
Why is it being considered an "activist judge", for this judge to apply that to Utah? That the voters in Utah can't take away the right for gays to marry?
And what is the Supreme Court going to rule? The opposite for Utah than for California?
Calling gay marriage bans a "state's rights" issue sounds perilously similar to calling miscegenation bans the same thing. I think if this case reaches the Supreme Court the result will not please the Mormon church – or any church – and that is as it should be. Government and religion belong far apart from one another.
When the United States Government decided to make laws for people to be joined in marriage, they joined religion & government together themselves when it was suppose to be separate. Marriage has always been a religious (in many religions) joining of a man and woman but the government saw a way to make a buck off a religious ceremony.
We should vote to take religious rights away from Christians and then they will see what discrimination is all about.
One day states will be voting on religion and Christians will be in an uproar.
Thank you so very much! I doubt you will read this in the sea of comments but as I have read some of your responses here I am glad that there are sane voices in this sea of hyped up emotion.
You and I are on opposite sides of this debate, but am very grateful for your respect, and trying to see it from our perspective even if you don't agree. I hope there can be more people like you in these kind of debates!
tom1 and then person you have been talking to. Thank you both for actually making me change the way I looked at this issue. This was the most calm and intelligent "discussion" I've read in a long while.
You're kidding me... After the Supreme Court, last year, didn't pass a ban on marriage equality, they're going to turn around and "temporarily block" those in Utah who are looking to get a marriage license? (For the LGBT community, of course). Something sounds a little hypocritical here...
The People have Spoken,