Same-sex marriages in Utah are now on hold, as the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday stayed a trial judge's decision that permitted the marriages to proceed.
The high court effectively stopped the marriages pending Utah's appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The Supreme Court did not issue any explanation for the decision, and no dissents were noted.
Utah's original request to block same-sex marriages pending resolution of its appeal went to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles petitions from the region that includes Utah. Sotomayor referred the question to the full court.
"A stay is urgently needed...to minimize the enormous disruption to the state and its citizens of potentially having to unwind thousands more same-sex marriages should this court ultimately conclude, as the state strongly maintains, that the district court's judgment and injunction exceeded its constitutional authority," Utah declared to the court.
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The lower appellate court had earlier declined to stay the trial judge's decision, though it agreed to handle the appeal on an expedited basis.
In a 53-page decision issued Dec. 20, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages, concluding it violated the constitutional guarantees to due process and equal protection. Since that decision, Utah noted, "hundreds" of Utah residents obtained licenses for same-sex marriages.
Utah voters enacted the ban on same-sex marriages through a 2004 ballot measure, that modified the state's constitution.
"Every marriage performed to members of the same sex is an affront to the sovereignty of the state and the democratically expressed will of the people of Utah," the state told the Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a key provision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which had blocked same-sex couples from obtaining federal benefits. The court in a separate case also struck down a California ban on same-sex marriages, though justices did not reach the broader question of whether the U.S. Constitution protected same-sex marriages nationwide.
Since the high court's decisions last year, the number of states permitting same-sex marriage has rapidly proliferated, through either a lower court decision, state legislative action or a popular vote. Excluding Utah, 17 states now permit same-sex marriage