January 6

Same-sex marriages in Utah put on hold

The order will remain in effect until a federal appeals court decides whether to uphold an earlier court ruling that Utah’s ban is unconstitutional.

By Mark Sherman
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Gay couples in Utah were thrust into legal limbo Monday as the U.S. Supreme Court put a halt to same-sex marriages in the state, turning jubilation to doubt just weeks after a judge’s ruling sent people rushing to get married.

click image to enlarge

Cheryl Haws, left, and her partner Shelly Eyre hold each other while being interviewed by the media after their marriage license issued at the Utah County Clerk’s office in Provo, Utah, in December. The U.S. Supreme Court put a hold on gay marriage in Utah.

2013 Associated Press File Photo/ The Daily Herald, Mark Johnston

The justices did not rule on the merits of the case or on same-sex marriage bans in general, leaving both sides confident they’ll ultimately win. The decision stays in effect while the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers the long-term question of whether gay couples have a right to wed in Utah.

For those couples who just got married — or were planning their nuptials — the latest twist in the legal battle clouds what was seen as a cause for celebration.

“It feels like we are second-class citizens during the stay,” said Moudi Sbeity, who is waiting to get married until the legal process plays out. “There’s also the fear of the unknown of what might come next.”

Sbeity and partner Derek Kitchen are among three couples who brought the Utah lawsuit that led to the surprise Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, who said the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violated gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights.

State officials praised Monday’s decision to put a hold on things, saying it should have come earlier. Two previous courts turned down their request for a stay.

“Clearly, the stay should have been granted with the original District Court decision in order to have avoided the uncertainty created by this unprecedented change,” Gov. Gary Herbert said.

The Supreme Court’s unsigned order did not indicate anyone dissented from the decision to halt same-sex marriages in Utah. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from Utah and the five other states in the 10th Circuit, turned the matter over to the entire court.

Many believe the Supreme Court will settle the issue for good. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said the court’s decision indicates an interest in Utah’s case, and he hopes the justices issue a final answer.

Others doubt the high court will step in any time soon. In June, the justices decided not to weigh in on the constitutionality of defining marriage as being between a man and woman, relying instead on a technical legal argument to resolve the issue in California and clear the way for same-sex marriage in the state.

The ruling Monday doesn’t necessarily give any indication of how the justices would rule on the issue, said Douglas NeJaime, a professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. He believes justices want the issue to work its way through normal legal channels before they weigh in.

Meanwhile, the state is trying to determine whether the marriages that have already taken place are still valid

Marriage licenses issued in 2008 in California prior to the passage of the state’s same-sex marriage ban were eventually upheld by the state supreme court. But marriages licenses issued in San Francisco in 2004 after mayor Gavin Newsom told city officials to grant them were later invalidated by the state supreme court.

That leads NeJaime to believe a court will need to rule on Utah’s marriages. If the Utah attorney general challenges the validity of the licenses as expected, that might lead to several months of limbo for the couples, he said.

Jon Davidson, director of Lambda Legal, which pursues litigation on LGBT issues nationwide, said Utah may choose not to recognize the marriages in the interim, but predicted the federal government and other states will honor them since they were granted in accordance with the law at the time.

(Continued on page 2)

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