Moral Low Ground

US Government

US Supreme Court Halts Utah Same-Sex Marriages

The US Supreme Court dealt a blow to marriage equality in Utah on Monday, granting the staunchly conservative state’s request for a temporary halt on same-sex weddings while it appeals a federal judge’s ruling that legalized such unions.

The Washington Post reports the high court issued a short order granting a stay of US District Judge Robert J. Shelby’s December 2013 ruling that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban was an unconstitutional violation of LGBT couples’ constitutional guarantee of due process and equal protection.

The ruling opened the door for hundreds of same-sex couples to wed throughout the state, although some counties had refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Shelby’s decision sent shock waves through Utah, which is home to the highly influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, which is strongly opposed to marriage equality. Nearly 60 percent of Utah’s 2.9 million residents are Mormons, and the Mormon church was instrumental in passing Proposition 8, California’s now-overturned same-sex marriage ban.

The state attorney general’s office appealed Shelby’s ruling almost immediately after it was announced, but the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver denied a stay. Utah then took its fight against gay marriage to the US Supreme Court, asking Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is in charge of emergency requests from the 10th Circuit, to issue a stay. Sotomayor referred the case to the full court, which issued the stay without debate.

“The application for stay presented to Justice Sotomayor and by her referred to the court is granted,” the court’s order states. The stay will remain in effect until Utah’s appeal of Shelby’s ruling is decided.

Lawyer James E. Magleby, who represented three same-sex couples who challenged the state’s gay marriage ban, called the high court’s order “obviously disappointing for the families in Utah who need the protection of marriage and now have to wait to get married until the appeal is over.”

“Every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their children are being harmed by not being able to marry and be treated equally,” Magleby told the Washington Post.

But many conservatives welcomed the Supreme Court’s move.

“One district judge should not be able to… force any state to act contrary to the meaning and purpose of marriage,” said Ryan T. Anderson of the conservative, anti-gay Heritage Foundation. “Whatever one thinks about marriage, the courts shouldn’t be redefining it.”

It is not yet clear whether the 900 or so same-sex marriages that have occurred in Utah since Judge Shelby’s ruling will remain valid.

“Though future marriages are on hold for now, the state should recognize as valid those marriages that have already been issued, and those couples should continue to be treated as married by the federal government,” John Meija, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Utah, told KSL.

But others called on Utah to annul all same-sex marriages.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the far-right Utah Eagle Forum, said such unions should be “summarily invalidated.” Ruzicka, who has found herself on the same side of the fight against hate crime legislation as neo-Nazis, told KSL that there is legal precedent for dissolving marriages. In once-polygamous Utah, “men with multiple wives were forced to abandon them, take their families and flee out of the country, or risk imprisonment,” said Ruzicka, who once attacked a lesbian political opponent for “living an illegal lifestyle” because sodomy was outlawed in Utah.

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