Appeals court won't immediately halt same-sex marriage in Utah

Same-sex marriage will survive in Utah for at least another day.

A federal appeals court denied Utah officials' request Sunday to immediately halt same-sex marriages in the state, which began after U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down Utah's ban.

Shelby's decision Friday stunned conservative Utah and prompted a flurry of same-sex weddings. The state had sought a kind of emergency Band-Aid to stop the marriages.

Shelby, an appointee of President Obama, ruled that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Utah's attorney general vowed to appeal.

The state filed emergency requests with both Shelby and the appeals court to stop same-sex marriages while Shelby's ruling is reviewed by higher courts.

Sunday's refusal by the appellate court to suspend Shelby's ruling was not the definitive word on same-sex marriage in Utah, however.

In a two-page order, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the emergency request on technical grounds, saying it had not been made properly. The appeals court noted that officials could file for an emergency stay again if they followed correct procedures.

In the meantime, a hearing was scheduled for Monday morning in front of Shelby over whether he should stay his own ruling.

Attorneys for acting Utah Atty. Gen. Brian L. Tarbet argued that Shelby's ruling had "taken the important public policy question of same-sex marriage away from the people of the state of Utah, and as such, constitutes a threat of irreparable harm to the democratic process of Utah."

The attorney general's office argued that same-sex couples married after the new ruling would suffer "irreparable harm" if their marriages were later annulled by the state, but not if they were temporarily forbidden from marrying in the first place. They could always marry later if the ruling were eventually upheld, the state argued.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, who are three gay and lesbian couples, scoffed at those claims in their own argument filed Sunday, pointing to two of their own clients as an example.

"It is undisputed that plaintiffs Karen Archer and Kate Call are facing the real and patent risk that Karen will not survive long enough for an appeals court to reach a decision on this court's ruling. ... A delay for these plaintiffs would be tragic, and not a mere inconvenience," their argument stated.

"Of more importance to the public interest," they added, "is the cloud of uncertainty that hangs each day over a sizable portion of Utah's citizens who are being denied the right to marry, and who as a direct result cannot plan for their retirement or their families."

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