January 6th, 2014
10:38 AM ET
4 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. Will Galloway

    What a joke. Wake up Utah. You're in the likes of Mississippi and Alabama with this ruling. IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN SOONER OR LATER. Once a generation dies out (and I hope it's soon) all of these changes are going to happen. Thank Goodness.

    January 6, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  2. Liberty

    Great. A smack down on American Communists!!!

    January 6, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  3. JohnH

    "Activist federal judge" – Adj. 1: Someone you disagree with.

    January 6, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  4. Hillcrester

    SCOTUS granted the injunction this morning and put the issuance of marriage licenses on hold until the Appeals Court completes its expedited review, somewhat mixing the message as to their view of this matter. Unfortunate!

    January 6, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  5. Matt H

    @Elaine Coyle

    Sorry, but you are not equal.

    January 6, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  6. TB

    But it's okay to have multiple wives and sleep with underage children in the state?

    January 6, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  7. Don

    Folks this is all about States rights and doing what its people want. Not necessarily religion. Have a nice day, the people in Utah are.

    January 6, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  8. Sharon T

    Marriage between a man and woman has NOTHING to do with religion; its about biology. Are people really that dense?? Nature gave us two genders for a reason. I cannot believe we are sitting here in 2014 even debating what marriage is supposed to be about. Its entire purpose is that it unites male and female. This is just a travesty, watching some people try and destroy marriage just to suit their own selfish urges.

    January 6, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  9. Sergeant

    A few decades ago, people would argue that THEY shouldn't marry US. Now they argue that THEY shouldn't marry each other.

    January 6, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  10. Dennis

    Utah is living in the past and they should take there religious believes and put it where the sun don't shine!

    January 6, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  11. Bert974

    That may be OK for Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and California, but not the apostate Utah.

    January 6, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  12. Name

    This is disgusting. Everybody should have the right to love and marry whoever they want. Im sick of hearing how religion is brought into this and what the bible says. Loving somebody isn't wrong no matter skin race or gender. And before any of u bible thumpers attack me go back yrs into the churches history and tell me why child sexual abuse was covered up? I dont need a bible or the church to tell me right ftom wrong when they hide crap for yrs and kids suffer cuz of it..Times have changed we need to evolve and stop this crap. EQUALITY FOR ALL!!!!!!

    January 6, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  13. Dave

    " The United States Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law." Why is it so hard for Utah and others to understand that?

    January 6, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  14. Elspeth

    I not a "hater" – but I was taught that homosexuality is an unfortunate, unnatural psychological affliction. Just examine the unnatural acts that "gay" people are reduced to – and its pretty clear that it can't be wholesome.

    January 6, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  15. chris hogan

    It will be interesting to see how the anti-gay side tries to say gay marriages hurt Utah when we now have almost 1,000 of them already. Every state that has allowed marriage equality has benefited, not hurt from it.

    January 6, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  16. TYRANNASAUR

    : High court puts same-sex marriage on hold in Utah...................

    The bible backs have been fighting reality and truth since Galileo discovered that the earth orbited the sun......this is just one more stupid fight that they will lose.....what a waste of time.......the constitution and Equality will WIN in this country.

    January 6, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  17. Alysha

    This is ridiculous. I live in Utah and have been reading some local articles about this ruling. I read an article yesterday about how Utahns who oppose the ruling do so out of sadness, not out of hate. They claim that changing the definition of marriage allows for families in which children are not raised by their married biolgical parents, which they say studies have shown, causes issues later in life. What about children who are adopted? I have seen plenty of LDS families here with adopted children. So their own families contradict this ridiculous front of an argument. Even still, not all adopted children are adopted by two-parent families.

    It makes me so angry that people think just because someone else's marriage/family looks different than theirs, it is a threat. That's like saying that if you went to IHOP and ordered pancakes, but the person in the next booth ordered waffles, that their breakfast is offensive to you, and brings down the quality of your pancakes. See? Ridiculous.

    January 6, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  18. Glyde

    I was passing through Utah when I heard about this. It made me uncomfortable to be there and made me feel different about the residents of Utah. I don't like having those kind of feelings. I always try to be friendly with everyone I meet and never consider their sexuallity to be my business. BTW I am not LGBT.

    January 6, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  19. Beth

    States rights, Utah has the right to vote on this issue and they did. What is tolerated in California isn't necessarily tolerated in Utah.

    January 6, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  20. tarura

    The issue here, gay marriage, is irrelevant and bogus. The real issue is whether a court, any court (name it the activist judge), has a right to overturn the decision of the voters, any decision by the voters.

    January 6, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  21. ts

    @What about the rest – murder is actually a violation of one's human rights which is what makes it illegal. Banning marriage equality is also a violation of human rights and should also should be legalized.

    January 6, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  22. Namewhodat

    Gay means happy. Odd or unusual descibes homosexual. Be happy but keep your sick desires to yourself lets all pray for forgivness we are all siners in one way or another

    January 6, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  23. Lawyer in Canada

    For all of you saying that democracy should rule etc, undertstand one central thing, the main purpose of the US Constitution or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is to protect potentially minority rights from attack by majority viewpoints. These documents seeking to uphold overriding concepts of personal freedoms and liberties EVEN WHEN THE MAJORITY THINKS IT IS A GOOD IDEA TO BLOCK THOSE LIBERTIES!! That is why countries like Canada and the USA have these documents in the first place!

    January 6, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  24. samb

    You can delay, but there's no way around gay marriage becoming legal!

    January 6, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  25. Doom Shepherd

    "to the interests of the states and its citizens in being able to define marriage through ordinary democratic channels."

    There IS no such animal.

    January 6, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
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