January 6th, 2014
10:38 AM ET
9 years 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. Jay

    It saddens me that there are still attitudes as antiquated as the opinions they promote. Yes, the majority can set laws for the minority as long as they actually have a purpose and protect the interests of humanity as a whole (IMHO). But if the majority suddenly wanted to bring back slavery, then no. In that case the majority would be trying to direct the minority in something that would not be protective of humanity and would adversely affect the freedom of those that would be enslaved (the minority). If a person wants to marry someone of the same sex, so what. It does NOTHING to harm anyone else, and allowing someone to love the person of their choice, and be loved in return, would help humanity as a whole. People love to spout the bible as being so against homosexuality, but the bible also prohibits tattoos (in the same book a few verses over) but I don't hear the righteous getting up in arms about it. If I want to love and marry a man, what is it to you. If I want to buy a red sports car and you hate red sports cars and would never want your child to be exposed to the evil of red sports cars, well too bad....don't buy a red sports car.
    The truest statement I have ever heard is "You do NOT have the right to NOT be offended". If you don't like a radio or TV program, change the station. If you don't like same-sex marriage then marry the opposite sex, Don't cry out that someone who does not believe the same as you has any less right to happiness and a fulfilling life married to the the person they love and who loves them back. Just as it was proven that the Sun does not in fact revolve around the Earth, the rules of love and marriage do not revolve around you (the collective "you"). There are a ton of 'what if's' that come up and for some reason the people that are the most misinformed will throw out "bestiality" or "pedophiles" etc,, but the same 'concerns' go along with opposite-sex marriage. They are, and should remain, illegal as they are harmful, destructive behaviors.
    In the end, for those who are of a religious bend, the 'sinfulness' of same-sex marriage is between the individuals and God. He will be the judge as to whether or not it was actually wrong.
    One question for those who want this country run as a Theocracy. Please point out one Theocracy in which the people actually prospered, advanced, and were happy because they were actually happy and not because they were told they were happy.

    January 6, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  2. Fair is Fair

    Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair wrote:

    @Rudy- So you say its wrong for the majority to dictate rights to the minority? So now you think universal backgrounds checks are wrong? Can`t have it both ways.
    TRANSLATION: "I believe that the Bill of Rights begins with the 2nd Amendment."
    TRANSLATION: "I can't answer the question so I'll throw out a democratic talking point".
    REACTION: The question was a deliberate change of subject to an irrelevant topic. The bait and switch was properly ignored.
    Absoluteny NOT a change of subject. The topic was on the ability of the majority to dictate to the minority. You replied that is should not be allowed, and yet you advocate it elsewhere. Why won't you answer the question?

    January 6, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  3. Dusty2701

    Some people can't distinquish between what is morally right and morally wrong. Besides, the opposite of a straight marriage is a crooked marriage. Some things are obviousely wrong as most Americans rightly believe about homosexual marriage. I'm sure the SCOTUS doesn't want to make a decision regarding homosexual marriage for all 50 states. It made that mistake when legalizing obortion...it created a cultural war that's still going on over 40 years later. These type of decisions are not about religion, it's about beliefs and values that one holds within himself or herself. I know atheists that don't believe in abortion and I know religious people who do. Just let the American voters decide by popular vote and take it out of the courts altogether.

    January 6, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  4. JRB

    Marriage is not a religious undertaking. I was married by the ruling of a judge and divorced by a judge, neither of those ceremonies had anything to do with any religious organization. This is probably where the term lawfully wedded comes from. Marriage is a legal arrangement. It does not seem reasonable, fair, compassionate or productive to deny them the right to marry. Nobody else is denied that right. Heck they even let convicted murderers get married while in jail!

    January 6, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  5. skarphace

    tom l

    Rudy NYC


    @Rudy- So you say its wrong for the majority to dictate rights to the minority? So now you think universal backgrounds checks are wrong? Can`t have it both ways.
    TRANSLATION: "I believe that the Bill of Rights begins with the 2nd Amendment."
    TRANSLATION: "I can't answer the question so I'll throw out a democratic talking point".


    It's so funny because for months all the liberals on here have been talking about is majority rules; especially when it came to the filibuster. Now? Not so much.


    Majority rules in Congress, but the SCOTUS decides what laws passed by Congress are in opposition to the Consti tution. This is the main basis of the SCOTUS, in case you care. Remember, we have a Democratic Republic, not a pure Democracy, and this is exactly what the founding fathers envisioned.

    January 6, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  6. Sharon

    I've been married for 26+ years. I cannot comprehend how a gay couple getting married makes any difference to me or my marriage. It doesn't make my marriage invalid, it doesn't affect me one iota. I find it humorous that some of the same people who scream about this being the "land of the free" and about being against government interference are the same people who would deny marriage equality to their neighbors. I guess it's only about freedom when you agree with it?

    I would love to see someone put forth a cogent argument against gay marriage that does NOT include any of the following: God/the Bible, what they would have to say to their kids, or reproduction (or lack thereof). Because we don't base our laws on God, what you do or don't say to your kids has no bearing on equality and reproduction is not a requirement for marriage.

    January 6, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  7. Avis


    I know! That's what I'm saying

    January 6, 2014 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  8. areyoumymoms

    cecelia wrote:

    "Finally! Someone fears God."

    This. Is. Not. About. GOD!!! If marriage were purely a religious institution, I'd never fight for my right to marry my partner. But it isn't. It's a civil institution, which means that by keeping me from legally marrying my partner, the government has stifled some of my civil rights (1,100 of them, actually). And that just isn't ok. If wasn't ok when the fight was for racial equality or gender equality, and it still isn't ok. You have the right to believe my life is wrong, but you don't have the right to tell me how to live it or force me to pay more in tax or insurance money than you do just because my partner and I are both women. And THAT is what this is about. It has nothing to do with your or anyone else's fear of God.

    January 6, 2014 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    "It's so funny because for months all the liberals on here have been talking about is majority rules; especially when it came to the filibuster. Now? Not so much."

    It's so funny because you have yet again latched onto a flagrantly ridiculous attempt at a "hypocrisy gotcha" by comparing apples to highway diapers. Seriously dude, get some comparison help.

    January 6, 2014 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  10. skarphace

    ram sham

    The question to ask yourself is simple and clear. Can two negatives alone and/or two positive alone can produce a natural offspring (child).


    Show me where, in the wording of the civil contract which is marriage, that it states that couples that marry must be able to produce offspring. Otherwise, your point is moot.

    January 6, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  11. skarphace


    Finally! Someone fears God


    A politician who "fears God" is corrupt.

    January 6, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  12. cleareye1

    Utah will lose this fight. Human progress is unstoppable.

    January 6, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  13. skarphace

    tom l

    Ummm. The govt is absolutely dictating to houses of worship just how to define marriage. We are all just waiting for that first lawsuit to hit a church for not conducting a marriage between 2 men or 2 women.


    And we will continue to wait, as it will not happen. The government is not stating that churches must marry gay couples. If you think this, then you are clearly unclear on the concept.

    January 6, 2014 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  14. Willllburrrr

    I'm Christian, but the ultra rightie evangelicals need to calm down if they think 'the rules' involve JUST what they agree with. This is about basic human rights. Get your own house in order. That will keep you plenty busy for the rest of your days.

    January 6, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  15. kennyg

    The people voted and their votes must be respected.

    January 6, 2014 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  16. GiSWiG

    In the beginning, marriage was the joining of a man and a women but marriage was nothing more than a contract between two families to benefit the future of those families, typically in the form of land. The son/daughter of one family "married" the son/daughter of another to have children that would keep the property within the family especially boys. They would keep having children until there was at least one boy and would continue to have as many boys as they could. Love was one the bottom of the list. It didn't even have to exist and the man could abuse the woman as he wished. The really sad part about it is that this continues even today. That is your traditional marriage. Modern marriage is actually for love.

    Seems like some people have less of a problem with a man and women getting married, never loving each other and living in a cycle of never ending abuse of themselves and their children but have more of a problem with a gay/lesbian couple who dearly love each other and want to stay with each other for the rest of their lives and make that know to everyone.

    January 6, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  17. skarphace

    The Taxman

    Hey, if you don't like the laws of one state you can move. Massachusetts allows it. But if you choose to remain in Utah you need to respect its laws passed by a grand majority of its voters. And the law is not freedom FROM religion but freedom OF religion. We can all practice our religions or none but the government cannot create its own religion.


    Correct, however "freedom of religion" means that one person's faith should not dictate another person's faith. In other words, if one church decides that it is ok for gay couples to marry, then there should be NO FEDERAL OR STATE LAW that should prohibit such. And this is the issue, as all laws pertaining to gay marriage restrict it, which is clearly a violation of "separation of church and state". Understand?

    January 6, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  18. jack in NC

    they just don't get it Marriage= a man and a woman period

    January 6, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  19. rbnlegend


    Welcome to america. The bible and the law are two different things. Many of us don't follow the bible, and many of those who do, interpret it differently. You can argue that they interpret it wrong, but too bad, they disagree, and you don't get to enforce your belief on them.

    January 6, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  20. Rudy NYC


    I love that people say a judge can't rule that a law violates constitutional rights ... that's exactly what a judge does!!! We are not a strict "majority rule" country, we have a three-branch government and the judicial does, amongst other things rule on the validity of laws. The supreme court, imho, should not have intervened, they should have left it alone to go through normal procedure and if needed, heard the case fully at a latter date after the lower courts all weighed in.
    Actually, allowing the case to work its' way up the ladder through the normal appeals channels is essentially what Sotomayor actually did. I don't who started it first, but it seems that both sides were trying to jump start the case up to the SCOTUS.

    January 6, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  21. Frank

    It promotes perverted sex on a "civilized" society. That's why 90% of the population of the world disagree with it! Who cares what effect it has on NORMAL marriages.

    We accept this and the pedophile and beastiality crowd will start screaming for their civil rights too, then what!!? Let them have it too because its a free country!?

    January 6, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  22. NameColinalcarz

    Calling a gay union marriage is akin to declaring oneself a doctor or a prince or a right honorable judge or any other title reserved for those who actually qualify for it either by virtue of their birth or education. It is an impersonation. Don't deny them rights of inheritance or insurance or whatever else is fair, but let's not call it a marriage when the individuals are of the same sex. It isn't.

    January 6, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  23. Rudy NYC

    tom l wrote

    You'g got it completely backwards. The government is not dictating to religions about how to conduct themselves. Most same-sex marriages are conducted by a government official. This is all about people feeling that their chosen religion should be able to dictate to the government about how to conduct its' business."

    Ummm. The govt is absolutely dictating to houses of worship just how to define marriage. We are all just waiting for that first lawsuit to hit a church for not conducting a marriage between 2 men or 2 women.

    The bottom line is that govt shouldn't even be in the marriage business to begin with. As well you know, I have no problem with gay marriage but don't fool yourself into thinking the govt isn't dictating to religions how to practice because they most certainly are.
    Really? Name the church, then. Name any church or religious institution that has been forced to perform a marriage ceremony that it did not wish to perform. You cannnot name one because it would unconstitutional for the government to meddle in their affairs. Likewise, religious institutions have *absolutely* no business meddling in their affairs of government.

    Government is forced to be in the marriage business because marriage has become a business agreement between two consenting adults. You're deluding yourself if you think government is is dictating to religious groups. If anything, it's the exact opposite that it occurring on a whole range of topics: constraceptives, same-sex marriage, abortion, death penalty, voting rights, tax issues, public school funding, health insurance, you name the social issue and the christian right is trying to dictate the rules.

    January 6, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  24. JP

    Yes, well as for as it not mattering or affecting anyone elses life that has never stopped the minority or the majority from imposing its wishes on the others. Otherwise, we would not have seatbelt laws, helmet laws, minimum age of marriage laws, you could just go on an on with all the laws passed because someone felt it was their mission in life to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

    January 6, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  25. BMW214

    What gives the federal government the right to define marriage? It is a Christian Covenant between a Man and Woman and God. This issue is not about marriage it is about taxes and death benefits, being able to make final decisions in case of a health problem. All of these issues are readily addressed in the legal system already. These people just want to adulterate the covenant between a man and woman and God.

    January 6, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
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