Though more than 900 same sex couples have married in Utah since a lower federal court approved marriage equality in the state last month, the US Supreme Court on Monday put a temporary block on the additional marriages until a federal appelate court hears a challenge.
As the Associated Press reports, the order from the nation's highest court "grants an emergency appeal by the state following the Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby that the state's ban on same-sex marriage violates gay and lesbian couples' constitutional rights."
As the New York Times explains:
Judge Shelby’s decision made Utah the 18th state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow same-sex marriages, and many hundreds of gay and lesbian couples have married there in the intervening weeks. Should a higher court ultimately reverse Judge Shelby’s ruling, it is not clear what would happen to those marriages.
In their Supreme Court brief, Utah officials said Judge Shelby’s decision should be stayed “to minimize the enormous disruption to the state and its citizens of potentially having to ‘unwind’ thousands of same-sex marriages.” The brief did not explain why it took officials so long to ask the Supreme Court for a stay; they filed on Dec. 31, a week after the appeals court declined to issue one.
Judge Shelby was only the second federal judge to strike down a state ban on same-sex marriages, along with Judge Vaughn R. Walker in San Francisco, who in 2010 struck down Proposition 8, California’s ban. That ruling was stayed while it was considered by an appeals court, which affirmed it, and by the Supreme Court.
In June, the Supreme Court effectively sustained Judge Walker’s decision on technical grounds and without reaching the question of whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
Though disappointing, same-sex marriage advocates seemed to look at the move by the court as a hiccup on the road to full national marriage equality.
According to Adam Polaski, writing on the blog for the advocacy group Freedom to Marry, the decision "merely marks a pause in the ruling" by the lower court.
"Hundreds of same-sex couples and their families were able to share in the freedom to marry over the past three weeks in Utah," he writes, "and while it is disappointing that many other families are being put on hold as the courts system considers the state's appeal, it is clear that in the end, justice will prevail. The couples who have legally married in Utah are just that—legally married."