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)
Bigotry and hate in the name of religion is out of hand.
Rudy NYC – Marriage is not a religious institution. While it may have originated in such a form, marriage has become a legal statement that insures legal safety and security backed by the government.
WhatsRight – You are WhatsWrong. A lack of morality, love, and sensibility is demonstrated in your words. You are a perfect example of hate camouflaged in the disguise of religion.
I support gay marriage entirely- but this move is actually a good thing for the gay community- hear me out.
As it stands right now, the bigots are fighting tooth and nail with hundreds of millions of dollars' backing from bigot religions like the mor(m)ons- this move indicates the supreme court will get involved- and the likelihood is that they will unilaterally strike down every ban on gay marriage at once, making it federally legal.
It was inevitable that this would hit the supreme court- there's no choice on their part because of the legal ramifications of a patchwork where it's legal, illegal, or a grey area in different states.
By this time next year gay marriage will be legal in all 50 states.
My girlfriend says that I'm married to my computer. Is that legal?
This CNN producer takes it upon himself to declare a state's voted ban on h0m0sexuals "marrrying" as unconstitutional! I know you liberal ideologues in the media think you're the elite, and should be able to hand down wisdom from your lofty perches, but I couldn't care less about your opinion on the matter.
Can someone give a practical, nonreligious reason for denying a group of individuals the same rights as everybody else? There is nothing in the Constitution that says rights are excluded to those we find objectionable or distasteful. If there was, not of us would have rights.
Hate and discrimination, they're what Republicans do best!
Hey Whatsright; You're a bigot. Not the first to tell you, won't be the last either. PS. You're God is fiction. I can't believe how that Bible fiction just swept in and took over – to quote you.
There are some so-called straight marriages that should be blocked as well, especially if your daughter is marrying a low down bum, or your son is marrying is gold digger.
Me and TJ say keep your religious sect out of my government! I want the freedom to believe as I wish!
“I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.”
~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799
Flashback to 1950: High court puts interracial marriage on hold in Utah.
And this is where the ultra-right-wing-conservative-"christian"-holier-than-thou-"family"-values-GOP-Tea-Party-fanatical-extremists all start ranting and raving about "activists judges destroying America" right?! Oh WAIT! I forgot... they are ONLY "activist judges" when they do something that the ultra-right-wing-conservative-"christian"-holier-than-thou-"family"-values-GOP-Tea-Party-fanatical-extremists DON'T like! Never. mind. "snark"
It still boggles the mind how much time, energy and money are spent in this country worrying about what two adults do in private. If this makes it to the supreme court and is struck down there are a lot of other states looking at law suits. Oh and historyteacher has some interesting ideas, I guess us old bags past child bearing age just get tossed away to die as soon as possible. Take heed young women make your own career and your own money, marry only for love and never ever depend on anyone but yourself for financial support.
The will of the people and states rights are still subject to the US Constitution. If a law passed by a state legislature or by popular vote fails to pass a test of constitutionality, then it is not legal. Bans on gay marriage have failed the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. constitution.
A majority of people in a state, or even the country for that matter, passing a law does not make it legal. The U.S. Constitution is the ultimate law in the land and all laws made must pass muster by it. This is yet another check and balance in our system.
"The state's request to the Supreme Court was filed with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from Utah and the five other states in the 10th Circuit. Sotomayor turned the matter over to the entire court."
You don't like it? Take it up with Sotomayor. It was within her power to make the decision, and she punted.
We legalized mixed race marriages some time ago. I haven't seen Satan appear to claim victory. Nor has the Almighty God of hosts smitten us with Biblical plagues; nor have the states that legalized equal marriage been hit with fire and brimstone. The faux religious sensitivity argument has worn thin. Base your anti-equal-marriage argument on the bigotry that it is, and leave God out of the picture. If this God that you define really does exist, He must be soiling himself from laughing so hard at all this nonsense.
It's very simple, It's about equal rights, not state rights. We have already seen why we don't leave it up to states. Hopefully I don't need to give examples. It's in our history/blood.
Why are we as a society, still discussing this? That fact, in and of itself, is disconcerting.
Citizens on this site arguing against gay marriage as if your opinion should matter. Why should you be allowed to sit around and discuss whether or not you think it should be allowed. Who are you?
The country is taking a massive economic shit, the plutocracy is growing, and we as the proletariat continue to squabble over this non-sense.
Live and let live, is it so hard? Are the WASPs' salvation at stake here? No. It isn't.
Lets put our political energies elsewhere instead of in the marital status of a group of people that, whether illegal or legal, doesn't effect our lives as humans. The simple fact of the matter is, homosexuality isn't communism and we need to stop the McCarthy-esque paranoia.
Move on...debate something that matters like the growing disparity in wealth among our citizens. Anything, for that matter, is better than poking our noses in the sexual/martial business of homosexuals.
Oh didn't California already go through the same process? And, after spending millions upon millions that that cash-strapped state could have used better elsewhere didn't they lose? Every day is Groundhog Day in Conservative Land!
Mormons can't handle change. A culture shift threatens the church and the very foundation that Utah was built on. Time to excavate and rehabilitate your thinking.
I simply don't see the correlation between marriage and religion. One doesn't have to belong to a religion to marry and one doesn't have to marry to belong to a religion. So, if folks want to go down to the county clerk's office and marry then so be it. The ruling by the Federal judge didn't require churches to marry gay folks. This is also not a states-rights issue and should not be up to voters as some rights are inalienable.
Nice to see people standing for what is right.
@Paul: well said.
Yeah I am amazed how our nation is embarking on so many "NEW freedoms ." that will eventually be the downfall of our nation. I am grateful for this small victory in the supreme court and still stunned the supreme court overturned the the democratic process of the voters in California.
If you don't like how racist a state is, should you move? If you don't like states where they allow for beating women, should you move? It's not about the state's rights, you fool. It's about human rights.
@whatsright I'm sorry that you have such an opposition to people in love being able to be in a committed, legal relationship. I'm glad that, should you or your partner/spouse have a serious health issue requiring hospitalization, you can visit/be visited, make life-changing decisions, etc. as these folks cannot.
Homosexuality is not a choice. Neither should granting homosexuals the same rights the rest of society has be a choice.