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Supreme Court halts Utah gay marriages pending appeal

Utah attorney general says the Monday ruling puts married same-sex couples in “legal limbo.”



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"We were confident when we filed the case in 2013, we were confident when we presented the arguments to the District Court and we remain equally — if not more — confident about our defense of marriage equality before the 10th Circuit," Magleby said in a statement.

Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor and federal court expert, said the Supreme Court order doesn’t reveal much except that the stay was granted.

At a glance

Utah reactions

The following is a sampling of reactions to Monday’s order from the U.S. Supreme Court granting Utah’s request for a stay of the Dec. 20 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby that found the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional:

“Utah’s Office of the Attorney General is carefully evaluating the legal status of the marriages that were performed since the District Court’s decision and will not rush to a decision that impacts Utah citizens so profoundly.” — Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes

“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.” — Chad Griffin, president, Human Rights Campaign

“It was surprising that the 10th Circuit did not grant a stay and disappointing that the district court did not either. When courts are making such dramatic decisions, judicial propriety requires that they take it a step at a time rather than galloping ahead like in a horse race. So the Supreme Court decision is quite unremarkable. The Supreme Court merely said no, we’re going to do this in the ordinary way and not rush to judgment.” — Lynn D. Wardle, a law professor at Brigham Young University who helped craft Utah’s Amendment 3

“These are couples who love each other, and many of them are raising children together. Now that the stay has been granted, they have to worry about whether the marriage that they lawfully entered will be recognized by the courts.” — Cliff Rosky, University of Utah law professor and Equality Utah chairman

“Every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their children are being harmed by not being able to marry and be treated equally.” — James E. Magleby, attorney for three same-sex couples who challenged Amendment 3

“Everyone in America should be concerned to see how easily activist judges can cavalierly toss out the will of overwhelming majorities of legislators and voters alike. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the people of America need to reclaim their sovereignty and amend the U.S. Constitution to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” — Brian Brown, president of The National Organization for Marriage

“Despite today’s decision, we are hopeful that the lower court’s well-reasoned decision will be upheld in the end, and that courts across the country will continue to recognize that all couples should have the freedom to marry.” — Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU of Utah’s LGBT project

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court [justices] did understand that this was an inappropriate and a jump-the-gun [decision] by an activist judge, in this instance. For the state of Utah this is a broader issue. State sovereignty is the issue overall. — Cherilyn Eagar, a former congressional candidate and conservative blogger

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"It does not say that the justices were unanimous," he said, as some have inferred. "In fact, it could have been 5-4, but the dissenting justices could have chosen to not write [to explain their position]."

Nor does it reveal whether the court would be inclined to hear the case after the 10th Circuit Court rules on the matter, which is likely to be in the spring.

"The court may be content to wait for other cases or to see the reasoning in other circuits," Tobias said. "We shall know more after the 10th Circuit decides."

About 1,300 same sex couples have wed in 28 of Utah’s 29 counties since Shelby’s ruling. Utah County did not provide marriage statistics. Though it isn’t clear how the stay might affect those unions, making them no longer legal would be unprecedented, said Clifford Rosky, a University of Utah law professor and Equality Utah board chairman.

"Ultimately, the courts will decide what happens to those marriages," said Rosky, but "never in the history of this country has a court retroactively invalidated a marriage that was legal when it was entered."

The stay is difficult news for those couples and their families, Rosky said, including their "children, parents, brothers and sisters."

Bill Duncan, president of the Utah County-based Marriage Law Foundation, which joined in an amicus filing in District Court, called the order appropriate.

Shelby acted "rashly" in allowing his decision to take effect without granting a stay while the state appealed, he said.


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"I’m pleased the state has been given time for that appeal to work itself out rather than rushing ahead," said Duncan, who also is director of the Sutherland Institute’s Center for Family and Society.

He noted that U.S. Supreme Court order "suggests that the issue is so important that the court recognizes that there needed to be more deliberation on the question."

"It’s interesting and also helpful from my perspective that whole court endorsed the idea that it is not up to one federal judge to overturn Utah’s marriage laws without much clearer direction from the U.S. Supreme Court," Duncan said.

As for what happens now to marriages performed while Shelby’s decision was in place, Duncan said "we really don’t know and no one will know until a later ruling."

The confusion "could have been avoided if Shelby had issued a stay," he said. "That was one of the unwise aspects of his decision."

Jim Dabakis — chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, state senator and newlywed to longtime partner Stephen Justesen — failed "to see what good comes by getting down on one knee and telling children [of LGBT couples], ‘Your state really doesn’t believe you are a family and you’re really a second-class kind of people and you’re not as good as the rest of us.’"

"People have the religious right to marry or not to marry whoever they choose, but the state of Utah ought not to be making those decisions when you consider all the wonderful benefits to children that come from the security of having two legal parents," Dabakis said.

LGBT activist Troy Williams said the stay will "raise the stakes" and "help us organize more effectively."

"This changes the dynamic because once you try to stop or take away a person’s individual rights and liberties, then you will see our community so fired up unlike ever before," he said. "If you thought the LGBT community was mobilized or organized in the past, you ain’t see nothin’ yet."

The Sutherland Institute, a conservative nonpartisan policy think tank in Salt Lake City, said the issue also has fired up its supporters. David Buer, communications director, said that after Shelby’s ruling, its network of supporters grew more than 100 percent — largely due to an online petition it sponsored asking Utahns to voice support for the state’s position.

The debate now will largely center on the 10th Circuit Court. The appellate court has agreed to hear Utah’s appeal on an expedited basis, with all filings in the case due by the end of February.

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