WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court decided today to issue a stay requested by the State of Utah to halt same-gender marriages in that state, pending an appeal.
The brief written order did not give an explanation for why the nation's high court issued the stay.
The fourth attempt by the State of Utah finally succeeded. The state failed in District Court and in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to halt the marriages of gay and lesbian couples, after District Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled on Dec. 20 that Utah's ban on gay weddings was unconstitutional because it violated the equal-protection and due-process guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling echoed the Supreme Court's ruling last year in the Winsor case.
On Friday, Utah asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor to issue a stay of the marriages, because she is assigned to hear emergency requests from the 10th Circuit. Sotomayor referred the motion to the full Supreme Court.
Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples have married in Utah since Judge Shelby's ruling.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the temporary stay is unfair.
“Utahns and other Americans have witnessed the joy that marriage has brought to hundreds of loving and committed couples over the past weeks. While it is disappointing that the dreams of many more will be put on hold, we know that in the end justice will be served and no couple will be excluded from this cherished institution," Griffin said.
"We still live in two Americans where full equality is within reach in one and another where even basic protections are non-existent. As the marriage equality map expands, history is on our side and we will not rest until where you live is not a barrier to living your dreams,” he said.
James Magleby, attorney for the plaintiffs in the Utah case, pointed out the harm that is being done to gay and lesbians couples who want to marry.
"Every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their children are being harmed by not being able to marry and be treated equally," he said.
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, said he was disappointed by the Supreme Court.
"While every day’s denial of the freedom to marry hurts, today’s decision by the Supreme Court to grant a stay in Utah is just a temporary pause in the work to win marriage for all loving and committed same-sex couples in the state. As the case makes its way up the ladder, we must continue to do the work of having conversations about why marriage matters, engaging both gay and non-gay people, and preparing for when the Supreme Court does take up the next case that will bring national resolution," Wolfson said.
"About 1,000 same-sex couples have legally married in Utah in the past few weeks; and their friends, neighbors, and elected officials will now see that marriage betters their lives and hurts no one. Being married allows a committed couple to protect each other and their family, and gives respect to their commitment under law. It’s crucial to use the momentum we gained in 2013 for the freedom to marry in the new year to show that allowing same-sex couples to share in the joy of marriage in Utah – and everywhere – is the right thing to do.”
Today's decision sets up another legal mess a la California's Proposition 8, and likely delays a final decision for years as the appeals case moves forward. Regardless of what happens in the appeals court, the losing side is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court. But today's move also buys time for the nation's high court, which signaled in its 2013 decisions on Prop 8 and DOMA (Winsor case) that it was not willing to address marriage equality on a nationwide basis. But the Utah case may be the one that forces the Supreme Court to decide for once and for all.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of of GLBTNN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 855-445-2866, ext. 713.