U.S. Supreme Court grants Utah a stay in same-sex marriage case

Several hundred people gather in Salt Lake City last month to celebrate a court ruling in favor of gay marriage in Utah.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press )

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday granted Utah’s request for a stay in a appellate court ruling, allowing the state to avoid -- at least for now -- having to recognize about 1,300 same-sex marriages performed after its ban on such unions was struck down late last year.

In December, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled in a lawsuit that Utah’s ban was unconstitutional. Shelby did not put a stay in place, but Utah requested a stay from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which she granted on Jan. 6. During that 17-day period, many same-sex couples wed.

Last month, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that stay, pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The couples who wed in that interim period would have been able to file for state benefits Monday morning had the Supreme Court not granted the stay. The stay was granted without dissent or opinion.

The Utah attorney general’s office said it was preparing an appeal to file later in the summer. Atty. Gen. Sean Reyes issued a statement late Friday:


“Although we agree with the Court’s ruling, we acknowledge the pain and difficulty a stay imposes on many Utah citizens and families seeking to adopt and receive benefits. ... Our internal team of attorneys have diverse personal beliefs about the issues in question, but unite in their dedication to seek final clarity and uphold Utah law.”

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, cautions that the Supreme Court’s action Friday does not indicate how the justices might rule in the case.

“I think that many observers find it frustrating when the Court does not explain its reasons for stays and especially in this context when so many people are affected in so many ways,” he said in an email.

Utah wanted to ensure that it did not have to recognize the marriages performed while its ban was inoperative. Last week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Utah’s request for a stay on that issue, giving it until July 21 to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Utah contended 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 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.’”

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