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)
Voters?? Yuk. So everyone who supports the Utah position needs to really MOVE there and make your bed there. Then see what real unemployment looks like.
Don't confuse religious views with moral views. Someone who bases their moral views on the teachings of Jesus or Paul, has just as much right to advocate those views as someone who bases their moral views on Jefferson, O'Hare, or Dr. Suess. Denying them this is a suppression. And to those who haven't heard a non-religious argument against gay marriage, you need to expand your view. There are plenty, most particular is that, scientifically, those parts weren't made to fit that way. Hard to believe how much hate from the left is being embraced.
Want to really solve the issue? Get government out of the marriage business. Everyone can define their marriage in their own way.
Finally one state that has some sence... Stop gay marriage
@Kelly "Leave everyone's marriage alone"
Don't you see the hypocrisy? It's you meddling in other peoples business, namely gay people who want to commit to their partners. How about YOU keep out of other peoples business.
@Bfisher "Finally a victory for god!" Seriously? Then how disappointed you will be when the whole US within a decade or so will have equality before the law.
@ThePeopleHaveSpoke. The rights of a minority should never be subject to the opinion of the majority. If it had, women still wouldn't have the right to vote. mixed-race marriages would still be illegal, and segregation would still be legal.
A constitutional democracy guarantees the rights of the minority.
And don't forget, we're all a minority in one way or another, One day there'll be a time when you're discriminated against, and "unequal" before the law, and will rely on people like me to support your rights.
Gays being allowed to marry, in no way affects you, except your entitlement to impose your views on others.
The Constitution is in place to protect the rights of the minority from the will of the majority. There may be a majority in Utah that does not agree with gay marriage, but that does not give them to right to step upon the equal rights of the LGBT community to marry.
People on the right all too often dont get how the Consitution works. They have proven it over and over again. The first amendment gives you the right to practice whichever religion you choose, but it also gives me the right to choose my religion, or lack thereof. Meaning, you cannot try to impose your religious dogma on us screaming it is your first amendment right, because it is my right to refuse your religion. The first amendment also protects your right to say whatever you want, but it does not protect you from the repercussions of what you say. Phil had the right to say the ignorant stuff he did to GQ, but A&E had equal rights to fire him for those things. I couldnt walk into my place of employment and say a racist slur to my coworker without risk of termination. Same thing.
Examples can go on and on....
Well, at least it showed up even though it is "awaiting deletionism by the so-called moderator".
What more can you expect, after all this is Amerika. They're on some kind of unannounced Crusade.
@Sharon T "Marriage between a man and woman has NOTHING to do with religion; its about biology."
Tell that to the divorce courts. So now it's all about BIOLOGY!! Wow. Thanks for clearing that up.
Luckily sane, reasonable people know that "The United States Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law."
If morality was left to a majority vote, slavery would still be legal in some states. Equality is inevitable!
Not everyone agrees that gays should marry. Thankfully, there are states that have enough people that feel that way. It's not about old fashioned thinking. I think that you should be married 10 years before being allowed to procreate. The sanctity of a man and a woman being married has been ruined. All we have now is mud people.
Ever notice, if the majority votes again same-sex marriage, the Right argues that the will of the people supersedes the Constitution, but if the people vote to ban guns, the Constitution overrules the people ?
religion – individual spiritual practice
marriage – legal contract to define roles and responsibilities
sum = not the same thing
are you guys hyper-religious monkeys that believe everything a bronze-age book written by men?
Intolerance wins again today. it's only the first week and 2014 is looking to be a horrible year for SSM.
Last I checked, the Tenth Amendment sets aside those powers not guaranteed or prohibited in the Federal Constitution to the states. Since there is no Federal statute on marriage, it is a no-brainer that the State of Utah should have the end-of-the-road decision on this matter. Moreover, here in Utah, there is a minute amount of people trying to legislate away the will of the (voting) majority who are, in all truth, Mormon and will base their decision on conscience. Go back to law school before you try to argue Constitutionalism..
I don't get it. A real women is somone like Julie Andrews or Olivian Newton John or Linda Carter.
Why doesn't a lesbian find a women like Beyonce sexy?
I don't get what they like....
I think they are just rebelling from see their father beat or treat their mother unfairly.
Sex is not important. Who cares.
If you don’t want gay-marriage – don’t get gay-married. Otherwise, stay out of the business of consenting adults.
Sharon T – there are over 450 species of animals in which homosexual behavior has been recorded. I'll say that again, 450 species. Let's just take a moment to let that sink in.......... This is not a human, selfish urge that is completely unnatural. I cant believe that in 2014 there are still ignoramuses like you gawking at the fact that we are still having this discussion. I, too, cant believe we are still having this discussion, but mine is clearly from the opposite spectrum.
Give it up, Utah. Justice will and must prevail.
Anyone who thinks that this is about States' rights needs to READ both the 10th and 14th Amendments.
States DO NOT have the right to make laws that discriminate against ANY citizen without DUE PROCESS.
That means, while states can regulate marriage, they cannot do it in any way that denies the right of marriage to a citizen without GOOD and LEGAL CAUSE !
Just because marriage has long been defined a certain way is NOT good or legal cause.
The people of the state voted, what is the purpose of a vote if not the peoples voice? Each state can or not have same sex marriage. Sorry but if your state does not vote for this, go where it is. Do you really want the government turning over state law.....it will bite you maybe not on this subject...but eventurally
Even if the supreme court rules sometime in the future that "gay" marriage is "constitutional", there are millions of Americans that have not and never will accept it as "normal". For most of those millions it has nothing to do with religion and we don't really care what you people do. If you are in a burning car or house I will try to save you as I would any other human being and hope for the same in return. You yearn to be accepted as normal by the millions....it will never happen no matter what the supreme court or any other court rules....
We have all learned the reality of allowing voters to decide other people's rights, in doesn't work well in the US. It took armed soldiers to integrate our schools. We should also recall that it wasn't until the late 1970's that the Mormon Church was, for the most part, a segregated church. They had been taught that "the black race" had previously sinned against God and was thus forever cursed. My fellow citizens should not have to wait for others to catch up to the rest of the country to acknowledge their rights, especially when the people we are waiting on have been brainwashed and indoctrinated. It must be infuriating to have the US give marriage rights to homosexuals, but not allow them to have the many wives their faith allows them.
I thought we lived in a country where people can vote for laws they want. This article clearly states that the members of the state voted for that law in 2004. I think it is wrong of the court to rule against the voice of the people. Take out what the issue is and look at how this was handled. It should go back to the people to see if they want to change their law.
This isn't a dictatorship either. It is a democracy where the people have the say. Not some judge.
Civil rights don't come down to just what the majority of a specific state think. We'd still have segregation and any number of other things we'd now consider backwards and barbaric. What if your state said you couldn't marry someone more than 5 years older than yourself or of another race? What about marriage where one of the people is not a virgin?
Seriously this is a personal choice.
Sharon, nature gave us THREE genders, not two. If I cannot marry because I was not born as a man nor woman, then my rights are being violated, and the law is UNCONSTITUTIONAL !
Good, now make it a permanent block.