Gay marriage is on hold in Utah, stemming a tide of same-sex unions in the overwhelmingly Mormon state, at least until a federal appellate court decides whether to strike down for good a voter-passed constitutional marriage amendment.
On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a permanent injunction on a ruling that overturned the state's Amendment 3, letting Utah's traditional-marriage law stand until the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides a lawsuit against it on the merits.
Utah state officials had been seeking a stay on U.S. District Court Robert J. Shelby's ruling, which had forced Utah to perform gay marriages since he issued the ruling Dec. 20. When neither Judge Shelby nor the 10th Circuit Court agreed to delay letting his decision take effect, state officials turned to the Supreme Court for help.
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles appeals from the 10th Circuit, received Utah's application on Herbert v. Kitchen and referred it to the full court. It issued the stay Monday morning, without apparent dissent and without indication as to which state arguments the justices found persuasive.
The stay means Amendment 3 is back in effect, and same-sex marriages are no longer performed in Utah.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who is named in the lawsuit, thanked the Supreme Court for "the correct decision," saying the stay should have been granted with the original ruling to avoid the "uncertainty" it created.
"I firmly believe this is a states-rights issue, and I will work to defend the position of the people and our state Constitution," Mr. Herbert said.
The status of some 1,000 same-sex marriages performed in Utah since the Dec. 20 ruling was not immediately clear. The unions were "now in legal limbo," said Omar Sharif, Jr., spokesman for GLAAD, formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
State officials were discussing their next steps regarding those same-sex marriages, a government spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
Lyle Denniston, who follows the Supreme Court at Scotusblog.com, wrote in a blog post Monday that the court's order makes it "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" and that timeline probably won't be met.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has not yet set a hearing for the case, though it has said it would expedite it. Still, it has only asked for briefing papers to be filed later this month.
The Utah case is significant for the rest of the nation. In 2004, Utah voters enacted Amendment 3, with 66 percent approval, to ensure that marriage would remain the union of one man and one woman in Utah, regardless of what other jurisdictions decide to do.
Voters in another 28 states enacted similar constitutional marriage amendments; four more states do not permit gay marriage by statute.
If the Utah amendment is struck down, it would likely mean the same fate for the rest of the amendments.
Gay marriage is fully legitimate in 17 states and the District, and gay-rights groups are determined to have nationwide gay marriage as soon as possible. In at least 16 states besides Utah, gay couples have filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the marriage laws.
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