January 6th, 2014
10:38 AM ET
10 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. Sniffit

    "and we could maybe move onto more constructive issues"

    I'm sorry, but allowing that to happen would completely destroy the GOP/Teatrolls. They have nothing left and will be clinging to these social conservative wedge issues (and others, like abortion and the Krischun Nashun garbage, etc.) for dear life in the years to come.

    January 6, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  2. WhatsRight

    What people seem to forget....is that they may be consenting adults, but all actions have consequences....and gay marriage will have negative consequences. Just give it a few years. God will not be dishonoured.

    January 6, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  3. Mr Wood

    This is less about gay marriage and more about ONE person making a decision that affects the whole state. If he declared abortion illegal would you still feel the same way?

    January 6, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  4. Chuck Anziulewicz

    As someone who believes very strongly in marriage equality for Gay couples, I need to point out that the federal government has complicated the issue more than anyone. While it is true that the Constitution says nothing about marriage, there are 1,138 legal benefits, protections, and responsibilities (according to the Government Accounting Office) that the federal government automatically bestows on married couples. Much of this has to do with tax law and Social Security. So it simply wouldn't do for a Gay couple that is legally married in Iowa to suddenly become UN-married if they move someplace else.

    Straight couples have never had to jump through these kinds of hoops. Thanks to the "Full Faith & Credit" clause, if any Straight couple flies off to Las Vegas for a drunken weekend and gets married by an Elvis impersonator, that marriage is automatically honored in all 50 states. Gay couples, however, are held to a different (and hence unconstitutional) legal standard.

    The only way marriage can be a "States Rights" issue is for the federal government to get out of the marriage business completely, and do away with the 1,138 benefits it grants to married couples. Tell me how thrilled most married couples would be with THAT.

    January 6, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  5. David

    This is a gigantic non-story. In cases like this it is very (where a higher court is expected to take it up) it is very common for judges to stay their own ruling, or failing that a higher court to stay the ruling for them. It has NO bearing of the way the higher court is likely to rule - it simply prevents governments from having to go back and forth every time a different circuit, appellate, district court reverses or affirms a lower ruling.

    January 6, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  6. A True Conservative

    "The fight against marriage equality is a useless one" "Civil rights are unstoppable"

    Explain to me how gays are being descriminated against – they have exactly the same right as everyone else does – they can marry anyone of the opposite sex that they like. Marriage has been defined fr centuries....now we have a small group of people who don't like the definition and want to change it. Probably the best response is what I hear all the time from the left regarding Obamacare – It's the law...deal with it. Then again, we all know that the door only swings one way with liberals......

    January 6, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  7. Texas Anne

    Can anyone out there tell me honestly that their heterosexual marriage was in some way harmed by allowing gay coupes the same right? Honestly?

    January 6, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  8. JustALittleLonger...

    @Mike84 you're right, but don't waste your energy trying to convince these people. The Pope himself, in all his infallibility, said about gays "who am I to judge?" and then went on to say that gays should be just as much a part of the church as anyone else, and that we spend too much time on divisions. This country was founded on Christian principles and to this day, veers a little conservative, but we can put topics like this to a vote, and those who don't like the results aren't required to stay here any longer than they want to. Comment threads are just a forum for trolls and flamers nowadays. Let them yell until their heads fall off, cuz you're right, in 10 years or less, it'll be constitutional, and anyone that doesn't like it will be free to move out of the US (as they are now).

    January 6, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  9. RB in CA

    From a legal standpoint, same-sex marriage is NOT a gay, lesbian, or religious matter; it is a civil rights issue. When a society legislates equal protection under the law then denies that same protection to a select faction based on gender association, a legal argument will soon be ignited.

    January 6, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  10. scooterdie

    To the people who advocate leaving it to churches to marry people, thinking this will prevent gays from being to marry, there are thousands of churches and synagogues who preform same sex weddings. So that point is useless.

    January 6, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  11. mark hensley

    The religious rightward so ignorant when they talk about marriage being a religious act.
    It's not.
    It's. A legal act, done by a justice of the peace.
    You don't need a church or have to be religious to get married, zipper heads.

    January 6, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  12. Sonny

    State's rights my ass. Civil rights is not a state's rights issue. You don't allow discrimination period. There is no excuse for any state in this Union to discriminate against marriage equality. The only objection to marriage equality is one that is steeped in religion and promoted by those who wish to deprive others of their rights by hiding behind "the bible". I find that it's typically uneducated people who lack a sense of control in their lives who run to religion to inform their decisions. Religion is for those with weak minds and even weaker hearts. Millions have died because of religion and millions more have been killed in the name of religion. Organized religion developed as a way to control people. Judging by some of the moronic posts around here, it appears to be working wonders.

    January 6, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  13. Vincent

    Wonderful, simply wonderful news. Praise to our lord for this wonderful intercession.
    Hopefully the supreme court will also outlaw these "so called" marriages in the other states that condone this immorality.
    At least in UT, INNOCENT CHILDREN will now be protected from homosexuals/lesbians and other deviates :)

    January 6, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  14. TallinOK

    I don't understand why the question of marriage is even left up to the individual states anyway. This whole issue should be defined by the Supreme Court, once and for all, for every state to adhere to.

    January 6, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  15. Matt

    The key word being "temporary" block on gay marriage.

    January 6, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  16. Will

    I wonder if Utah is going to request that slavery be reinstated as well. They don't want anyone to have freedom so I have to assume that's going to be next on the right agenda.

    January 6, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  17. Sniffit

    "It is about state's rights, which is good."

    No, it absolutely isn't. It's about individual civil rights, which are not up for a vote such that the majority gets to take them away from an unpopular minority. That will be borne out, no matter how much the conservatives on the SCOTUS try to rewrite the Constitution. Bigots like Scalia only have so much life left and their little attempt at a coup over the ideals of equality, inalienable human rights and life liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be short-lived even if successful.

    January 6, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  18. jzaks

    Just crazy that this nonsense is going on. If gay's want to marry let them marry. Much ado about nothing.

    January 6, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  19. Don Draper

    These inane arguments against same-sex marriage were used against interracial couples in the 1950s and 1960s as the act became more common and rights were being violated.

    January 6, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  20. Fields

    Gay marriage is a sham. This fight will end when the Supreme Court finally rules that marriage between a man and a woman is an institution with thousands of years of history upon which every civilization since Sumeria has been built. Gay marriage is nothing but a lie.

    January 6, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  21. Rudy NYC

    What about the rest

    @THINKAGAIN Murder is a religious based wrong doing, should murder be lawful?
    --------------------
    Not neccessarily. When you murder someone, you are taking away their freedom and their life. You can argue that murder is not religious based just as easily as you can argue that it is.

    What makes you think that you have the right to tell other people how to live their lives, anywqay? The rules of your religion, or church, or for the members of your religion, or church. As much as may want to, you do not have the right to impose your religious values on the rest of the town, city, state, or country. You do not have that right, most especially if you do not want the same done to you. If you want religious freedom, then grant others that same freedom.

    January 6, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  22. kabelme

    copying above. well thought out:
    Same sex marriage is a joke. Nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Now I do not care if same sex couples happen. Nor does it bother me. What bothers me is this circus show thats been put on by the media about marriage equality. I love former governor Jesse Ventures idea on same sex marriage. Anyone, regardless of sex, should be able to get a certificate of union. Leaving it up to the church(s) to marry people. It would eliminate the need for this topic to keep coming up. It also keeps the government out of peoples private lives. Now it wouldnt be a complete fix all as there would still be folks out there that disagree same sex marriage but it would take the government out of the argument. If people had a problem with a church marring same sex couples then they just simply go to a different church. Lets get back to more important topics that have world wide impacts and implications.

    January 6, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  23. rs

    The difficulty for the SCOTUS is that:
    * There are already same-sex marriages in Utah, and the Court will be loath to take rights already granted away
    * Based on the fact the State of Utah granted marriage licenses to same sex couples, and allowed marriages to occur, continuance of the practice will be the most logical outcome
    * Utah is not the first state with same-sex marriage, thus this breaks no new legal ground
    * Utah's anti-same sex marriage initiative mirrors those in other states- already struck down by courts

    Thus, it would appear that barring some truly out-of-order ruling, when the SCOTUS hears Utah's case against same-sex marriage, Utah will in all probability, lose.

    January 6, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  24. danial54

    Please........let them marry already! They deserve to be as miserable as the hetro sect, and pay child support and alimony and palimony.

    January 6, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  25. Cricket666

    What real difference if gays want to get married or not? Geez, everybody, get a life and live your own and stay out of the lives of others.

    January 6, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
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