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In a (perhaps temporary) blow to gay couples and Utah same-sex marriage advocates, the United States Supreme Court has granted a stay on a federal district court judge’s decision overturning Utah’s gay marriage ban. According to a story in The Salt Lake Tribune, the Supreme Court’s ruling, which came down on Monday, will effectively halt same-sex marriages in Utah for the time being.

The district court judge’s decision legalizing gay marriage in Utah came down about three weeks ago, and surprised observers both in Utah and around the country. Overnight, one of nation’s most conservative states was granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. However, the state plans to appeal the ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and, if that fails, all the way to the Supreme Court. The stay means that no more same-sex marriage licenses will be issued in Utah at least until after the 10th Circuit rules on the appeal.

Judge and Gavel

Stay Puts Married Same-sex Couples in Limbo

Many same-sex couples were married during the three-week period between the district court ruling and the Supreme Court stay. The legal status of those couples, in terms of their rights and their ability to receive government benefits, is unclear for now, and no more gay couples can get married until the higher courts sort out the appeals. The Supreme Court’s decision came after both the district court and the 10th Circuit declined to grant stays. An attorney for the Utah same-sex couples who originally sued in district court, objected to the stay and was quoted as saying, “every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their children are being harmed by not being able to marry and be treated equally.”

Similarities and Differences with California Decisions

Utah is the second state in the nation, after California, to have a federal court strike down its law banning same-sex marriage. In California, a district court judge found Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage, to be unconstitutional. In that case, the district court imposed an immediate stay on the ruling until the issue could be resolved by the higher courts on appeal.

That stay prevented the situation we now see in Utah, where couples may eventually have their marriage licenses revoked, even though they followed the law on the books at the time they were married. It ultimately took about three years for the California case to go from the district court to the U.S. Supreme Court. The district court’s decision overturning Proposition 8 was affirmed by the Supreme Court last year in Hollingsworth v. Perry. It is very possible that the Utah case will take just as long to resolve.

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