On Monday morning, the Supreme Court ended a weeks-long opening for gay marriage in the conservative state in Utah, for now. The high court placed a hold on a federal judge's decision declaring the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional, at least until a federal appeals court can hear the case.
Utah (temporarily) became the 18th state to legalize same-sex marriages in late December, when U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby decided that the state's ban violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the federal Constitution. His decision led to the immediate legalization of same-sex marriage in the state. Shelby and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals then denied the state's request for an emergency stay, meaning that the Supreme Court had to weigh in on the case. Although Justice Sonia Sotomayor could have handled the stay request on her own, it looks like the justice referred it to the full court.
Utah will definitely appeal Shelby's decision, meaning that the case could be headed for a full hearing by the Supreme Court, no matter what the federal appeals court decides on the matter. That could get really interesting, especially since Shelby's decision against Utah's amendment banning same-sex marriage refers to the high court's own limited ruling on California's Proposition 8 ban:
"A number of lawsuits, including the suit currently pending before this court, have been filed across the country to address the question that the Supreme Court left unanswered in the California case. The court turns to that question now."
Essentially, this case could be an invitation for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter of same-sex marriage bans in every state, something the court did not do in its Prop 8 decision last year. Instead, the court found that the anti gay marriage advocates defending the California ban did not have standing to do so. That decision effectively legalized gay marriage in California, but not anywhere else with similar bans.
Shelby's surprising decision prompted some confusion in the state. Some counties began issuing licenses to same-sex couples immediately following the federal court's order, while others held out until the appeals court weighed in. As of late last week, over 900 gay couples in the state were granted marriage licenses. Now, gay couples in the state will have to wait until the 10th Circuit weighs in on the case.
This post has been updated.