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)
Separation of church & state. Has Utah EVER heard of that? Religion has NO business in politics. Its amazing how backwards certain areas of the country still are because of religion. Its pure stupidity & bigotry.
The people of Utah voted against same sex marriage. That is the will of the people of Utah. If they want, they can re-vote on it. PERIOD!
I live in Utah and Shelby's ruling has been a major shock to most of us. I agree with the Supreme Court here; if you want to change history, you need to do it slowly and with all your i's dotted and t's crossed–not with one liberal judge's opinion.
I was a child in school when I first heard the fantasy that a democracy was ruled by the decisions of the majority rather than those of the minority. Court rulings have reversed every single vote to suppress gay marriage, yet no one questions the demise of the myth of democracy. The quest to satisfy the appetites of an activist and sometimes violent minority proceeds amidst the destruction of the American democracy.
Ultimately the gays will have their way because the will of the majority of Americans is broken. Nobody, absolutely nobody is concerned about what is best for the country. Everyone wants their piece of the pie. And nobody seems to realize that the pie has already gone stale. Quite soon it will be totally inedible and good for nothing except to be thrown out with the rest of the trash of history.
The only up side is for divorce lawyers who now have a completely new field of litigation to milk.
and that's just me, hollering from the choir loft....
The bell of freedom has been silenced in Utah by the Mormon Church. This is BS.
Sotomayor is a fool. She should never have "asked her colleagues to weigh in."
The Justices appointed by Republican administrations are quite open about basing their rulings on political ideology. They don't care about being criticized for it. Sotomayor is afraid that if she makes an objective ruling based on the law, the loonies on the right will criticize her for politicizing the issue. So instead of just following the law she hides like a coward and lets her right colleagues make the decision for her. Pathetic.
Marriage laws are regulated by the states individually. Even if you don't agree with it, the majority voted it to be that way. People have reasons other than religion to disagree with it. This is why you vote.
Hopefully the full court will rule this is a states rights issue and put an end to this bull crap.
Is this Utah or Russia? You are embarrassing the entire country. Religion forcing itself on the people and the courts are listening to it.
I hope the Supreme Court ultimately finds this law unconstitutional, setting a nationwide precedent.
It's funny how religious conservatives call this a 1st Amendment issue when it truly is not. They need to go back to Civics class & learn why that was put into the Constitution. It was put in so INDIVIDUALS can practice whichever religion they so chose to, not for RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS to decide whatever they'd like to & the Constition was strictly written for the separation of Church & State. IF you know the true Thanksgiving story & why the Puritans (Pilgrims) came here... That's the reason that Freedom of Religion was put into the Constitution.
Apparently, the majority can now override the Constitution. Your rights are now subject to the whims of the majority. RIP America.
This is about States passing unconstitutional laws descriminating against a minority of people. Separation of Church and State.
Next they will want to re-institute polygamy. That's OK for Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and perhaps California but not Utah, the apostate artificial creation of the the hermaphroditic federal government conspiracy. These are the people whose ancestors connived with Boggs, Tyler, and Polk to assassinate the greatest religious figure of the 19th century, The Great Prophet.
I think there are many states in the south that wish they were a theocracy. Religion is good on an individual level but when it gets mixed with politics, it causes nothing but problems.
Apparently God needs the courts to fight his battles for him. So much for all-powerful.
This is great! This is a huge win for states' rights. This was a State Constitutional Amendment that was voted for by roughly 2/3 of the voters in 2004. So glad to see that the will of the people will stay for now.
The suspension of the rights of man, is unacceptable. Allow them all the benefits of man, they will pay dearly later.
Another victory for the American Taliban.
The issue is not religious based, and if you want to say that then you can make the argument that marriage is a religious institution. I personally don't care what anyone does in their private lives. If you allow gays to marry then we should allow polygamists (spell ckeck) to marry as well. Tax breaks for married couples are for the purpose of procreation and raising a family which is something that is generally easier for a straight couple than a gay couple.
Good, an activist judge overturned a part of the constitution of Utah voted in by the majority of voters. The same activist judge did not allow a stay of that law; the Supreme Court had to step in.
There's so much I could say here. As a gay Utahn, this is not surprising but nonetheless very disappointing and humiliating as a citizen of this state. This IS a church state, last time I checked that was also against the constitution. Why there aren't higher courts enforcing that violation I'll never understand, and is the root of a lot of the social issues in this state. The church does not represent the lot of us, less than half actually. How can its citizens vote to ignore and override the US constitution in 2004? State does not tromp federal? While I knew this would be an uphill battle with bumps along the way I'm optimistic this will turn out positively.
From the SCOTUS blog –
"The Supreme Court on Monday morning put on hold a federal judge’s decision striking down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, thus stopping a wave of such marriages across the state. The Court’s order reinstates the state ban and will keep it intact until after a federal appeals court has ruled on it.
The order appeared to have the support of the full Court, since there were no noted dissents. 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. 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.
Since the Monday order provided no explanation, it was not clear which of the arguments made by state officials had been convincing to the Justices. The state had argued, among other things, that U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby’s decision nullifying Utah’s ban had preempted the power of the Supreme Court to be the final arbiter on that question. The state also had contended that its interest in enforcing its ban would have been undercut by a refusing of a stay. And it had said that it would be difficult to untangle marriages that had occurred in the meantime, if the ban were ultimately upheld in the courts."
This is good. We don't meet homosexual propaganda in out country. We already have what 12 states with idiots.
I am religious and while I strongly oppose gay marriage I also believe God give you a choice in life, so if gays want to burn in hell for eternity then that should be their choice but at the same time I should not have to subject my son or daughter to their practices. Gays love to scream and holler when someone speaks their beliefs but they are supposed to be alowed to spread their gayness everywhere and nothing is supposed to be said, well sorry life doesnt work that way.