(Photo: REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)
Same-sex marriages in Utah were halted Monday by U.S. Supreme Court justices while the state appeals a lower court's ruling allowing such unions.
The Supreme Court released a brief statement Monday saying it ruled to put the marriages on hold in order to "minimize the enormous disruption to the state and its citizens of potentially having to 'unwind' thousands of same-sex marriages." Same-sex couples in the state began marrying in late December after U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby overturned the state's 2004 ban on same-sex marriage. Since Shelby's ruling on Dec. 20, over 900 same-sex couples have married in Utah.
The high court's order will remain in effect as the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reviews Utah's challenge against Shelby's previous ruling. Shelby said in his ruling that the 2004 ban on same-sex marriage, approved by 66 percent of voters, was unconstitutional because it violated the U.S. Constitution's 14th amendment rights to equal protection and due process. The state immediately requested a stay in the ruling from Shelby and the 10th Circuit, but was denied by both and therefore forced to go to the highest court to request a halt.
The request for a stay was initially handed to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who oversees appeals jurisdiction for Utah and surrounding states. Due to the immensity of the request, Sotomayor turned the decision over to the entire justice panel for consideration.
The Utah attorney general's office previously said it was appealing Shelby's ruling because the "federal district court's ruling that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right has never been established in any previous case in the 10th Circuit." Additionally, the state of Utah argued recently that Shelby's "unlawful injunction" interferes with the enforcement of state laws.
Judge Shelby's ruling made Utah the 18th state to legalize same-sex marriage along with the District of Columbia. Although the ruling saw hundreds of same-sex couples flock to their local county clerk to receive marriage licenses, it has also resulted in a massive backlash from Utah citizens, two-thirds of which belong to the conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially opposes same-sex marriage.
One 35-year-old Utah man, Trestin Meacham, has vowed to go on a hunger strike until the state nullifies its legalization of same-sex marriage. Another group of residents opposing same-sex marriage gathered near Salt Lake City on Saturday to hold an "uprising" protest, asking the state to reverse its legalization of same-sex marriage and, in the meantime, defend county clerks who refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Although he has ordered all county clerks to comply with Judge Shelby's ruling and begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has made it clear he does not agree with the state's legalization of the unions: "I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah."
If a higher court does ultimately strike down Shelby's ruling, it is unclear what will happen to the 900 same-sex marriages that have already been approved in the state.