Utah asks Supreme Court to stay ruling on recognizing same-sex marriage

Corbin Aoyagi, a gay-marriage backer, waves a rainbow flag during a rally this year at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Utah filed an emergency request with the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday in an effort to avoid having to recognize same-sex marriages performed after its ban on such unions was struck down.

A federal judge’s decision invalidating the state’s ban was stayed after about two weeks, but about 1,300 gay and lesbian couples married in the interim. Unless the high court acts on Utah’s latest request, those couples could file for state benefits within days.

Last month, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby’s December ruling in Kitchen vs. Herbert, which struck down Utah’s ban as unconstitutional. The appellate court left the stay on new marriages in place pending appeal.

But Utah wants to ensure that it does not have to recognize the marriages performed while its ban was inoperative. On Friday, however, the 10th Circuit denied Utah’s request for a stay on that issue, giving it until Monday to appeal to the Supreme Court.

If the high court declines to intervene, the Utah couples will be eligible for spousal benefits starting at 8 a.m. Monday.


Utah contends that would “create chaos” and “deprive public officials (and the governments they represent) of their own due-process rights to effective appellate review.”

In its appeal to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Utah said, “Here, every single interim marriage performed as a result of the district court’s ... injunction directly challenges the sovereignty of Utah and its people. Each such marriage undermines the state’s sovereign interest in controlling ‘the marriage status of persons domiciled within its border.’”

Utah’s emergency application was directed to Sotomayor, who intervened to stay Shelby’s original order. She could handle it herself or refer it to the full court.

Shelby struck down Utah’s ban on Dec. 20, and Sotomayor stayed his ruling pending appeal on Jan. 6.

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