SCOTUS halts same sex marriages in Utah, for now



The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday put same-sex marriages in Utah on hold, granting the state’s request for a stay while it appeals a ruling that laws banning such marriages are unconstitutional.

The court said the stay would be in place until the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver makes a decision on Utah’s appeal.

The state’s stay application was filed with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who referred it to the whole court, according to the order issued Monday. Sotomayor is assigned to the 10th Circuit Court, which rejected Utah’s request for a stay three times.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby also denied the state’s request that he stay his Dec. 20 order overturning Amendment 3 while Utah appealed.

The order from the U.S. Supreme Court means clerks in Utah no longer will be allowed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It is not immediately clear what the order means for couples who have already married.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who met briefly with reporters Monday, said that this was the “uncertainty” the state hoped to avoid with a stay.

“We don’t know the answer yet as to marriages already performed,” Reyes said, adding that the state wants to carefully evaluate the implications. “There is not clear legal precedent for this particular situation.”


At least 1,000 same sex couples have wed since Shelby’s ruling. Though it isn’t clear how the stay might affect those unions, making them no longer legal would be unprecedented, said Clifford Rosky, a University of Utah law professor and Equality Utah board chairman.

“Ultimately, the courts will decide what happens to those marriages,” said Rosky, but “never in the history of this country has a court retroactively invalidated a marriage that was legal when it was entered.”

Well, we’ll see if there’s a first time for everything. Lyle Denniston provides some more information.

The Court’s order reinstates the state ban and will keep it intact until after a federal appeals court has ruled on it.

The order appeared to have the support of the full Court, since there were no noted dissents. The ruling can be interpreted as an indication that the Court wants to have further exploration in lower courts of the basic constitutional question of state power to limit marriage to a man and a woman. Had it refused the state’s request for delay, that would have left at least the impression that the Court was comfortable allowing same-sex marriages to go forward in the thirty-three states where they are still not permitted by state law.

The order, however, cannot be interpreted as a dependable indication of how the Court will rule on the issue when it finally decides to do so directly.


As a result of the new order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, based in Denver, will go forward with an expedited review of Judge Shelby’s decision. The appeals court has ordered briefing to begin on January 27 and to be completed by February 25. It has indicated it is not likely to grant any extensions of time to file those documents. It has not yet set a hearing date.

With the Justices’ order in the case, it now appears almost certain that the question of state power to bar same-sex marriages will not be before the Justices during the current Term. A case on that issue would have to be granted this month to be reviewed before the Court is expected to finish this Term in late June.

So now the Texas case will be heard with Utah back in the no-same-sex-marriage column. Again, we’ll just have to see what effect that will have. I was cynical at first thanks to the inevitable involvement of the Fifth Circuit, then I was ebullient, and now I’m disappointed but still hopeful. Sorry for the whiplash. While I remain guardedly optimistic, here’s a reminder from TPM that we may yet be a long way away from a favorable resolution. SCOTUS will do what it wants to do, as anyone familiar with Bush v Gore can attest. In the meantime, keep the faith and keep fighting.

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