The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a temporary stay blocking “gay marriage” in Utah until the state can complete its appeal of a federal judge's order to recognize the unions.
“The decision by a single federal judge to redefine marriage in Utah is lawless, and we are pleased that the Supreme Court has put this decision on hold to allow the state to appeal it in an orderly fashion,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.
The Supreme Court's action means that Utah’s definition of marriage as a bond existing only between a man and a woman will remain in effect until the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the matter.
The stay comes after a Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby of Salt Lake City overturning Utah's marriage law and ordering the recognition of “gay marriage” in the state.
Utah appealed the ruling and sought a stay of the decision to delay it from taking effect until the appeals process is finished. Both Judge Shelby and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied this request, allowing same-sex “marriage” ceremonies to continue in the state. Utah then took its request to the Supreme Court, which granted the stay with no noted dissents from any justices.
The high court's order allows the state to re-institute its definition of marriage pending appeal. This blocks new “gay marriages” from taking place during the court process.
No date has yet been set for the case’s oral arguments before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his ruling, Judge Shelby pointed to U.S. v. Windsor, a 2013 case in which the Supreme Court decided that a federal prohibition of same-sex “marriage” was unconstitutional.
“The Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor to strike down DOMA was based on the liberty of individuals to form intimate relationships without being demeaned or degraded by the government,” he wrote.
The judge said that the Windsor decision renders state bans on “gay marriage” unconstitutional and ruled that Utah must allow the practice. The ruling led to a wave of same-sex “marriage” ceremonies in the state.
Defense of marriage advocates, however, argued that Shelby was misusing the Windsor ruling to push a redefinition of marriage on an unwilling state. They noted that the Supreme Court held in Windsor that states retain the ability to make decisions about marriage within their borders. The court simply said that the federal government must recognize same-sex unions as marriages in states that choose to do so.
“Shelby has attempted to twist what the Supreme Court ruled in the Windsor decision --- that states have the right to define marriage --- and turn it into the exact opposite conclusion,” said Brown in a Jan. 6 statement. He called the Supreme Court's temporary stay of the ruling “gratifying.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, agreed, saying that the stay “is consistent with the Court's ruling last year in Windsor v. United States, in which they affirmed that states have the 'historic and essential authority to define the marital relation' and condemned federal efforts 'to influence or interfere with state sovereign choices about who may be married.'”
This observation was also made by Utah lawyers in their application to the Supreme Court. They noted that the practice of recognizing gay unions is a new phenomenon “not deeply rooted in the nation's history and tradition.”
“Numerous same-sex marriages are now occurring every day in Utah,” the state attorneys said.
“Each one is an affront not only to the interests of the state and its citizens in being able to define marriage through ordinary democratic channels, but also to this court's unique role as final arbiter,” their application stated, adding that states have an “indisputable” and “powerful interest in controlling the definition of marriage within their borders.”
Should the state win its appeal, addressing the status of the more than 900 same-sex “marriages” performed since the ruling could be a “thorny problem,” the state attorneys said.
— Catholic News Agency contributed to this story.