January 6, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Supreme Court stays Utah same-sex marriages
Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a stay on Utah same-sex marriages (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The U.S. Supreme Court approved on Monday a stay request on same-sex marriages in Utah, prohibiting gay couples from continuing to wed in the Beehive State as litigation proceeds throughout the courts.

According to the court order, justices ruled to grant the application of stay filed last week by attorneys for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes in the case of Kitchen v. Reyes.

“The permanent injunction issued by the United States District Court for the District of Utah, case No. 2:13-cv-217, on December 20, 2013, is stayed pending final disposition of the appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit,” the order states.

The vote of the full court indicates U.S. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who’s response for stay requests in the Tenth Circuit, referred the matter to the entire to the entire court instead of deciding the issue for herself. How each justice voted on the matter isn’t disclosed, but at least five justices must have voted in the affirmative to grant a stay.

The district court that ruled in favor of marriage equality in Utah on Dec. 20 and the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had already denied stay requests from Utah. But as the highest court in the country, the U.S.  Supreme Court has the final word on the stay, so same-sex couples have no further recourse in the matter.

State officials asked the Supreme Court to halt the same-sex marriage in Utah on the basis their continuation would cause financial harm to the state and the couples themselves if their unions were deemed invalid at at a later time. Private attorney Monte Stewart, a Utah-based lawyer and known opponent of same-sex marriage, had signed on to the brief as counsel of record.

Although the Supreme Court has granted the stay request, the litigation that brought marriage equality to Utah hasn’t been resolved and is pending before the Tenth Circuit.

The appellate court has agreed to take up the issue on an expedited basis. State officials’ opening brief must be filed by Jan. 27. The response from attorneys for gay couples is due Feb. 18, and state officials have a chance to respond to that filing by Feb. 25.

James Magleby, one of the attorneys at Magleby & Greenwood PC representing the three plaintiff couples in the lawsuit, said the decision by the Supreme Court was “obviously disappointing,” but predicted in the end the Tenth Circuit would bring justice to same-sex couples seeking to marry.

“This temporary stay has no bearing on who will win on appeal,” Magleby said. “We look forward to defending Judge Shelby’s decision in the Tenth Circuit. 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 Tenth Circuit.”

LGBT advocates also expressed disappointment with the decision by the Supreme Court, but said they believe it would be only temporary.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the stay in Utah same-sex marriages is “disappointing,” but predicted marriage equality would prevail in the end.

“We still live in two Americans where full equality is within reach in one, and another where even basic protections are non-existent,” Griffin said. “As the marriage equality map expands, history is on our side and we will not rest until where you live is not a barrier to living your dreams.”

John Mejia, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, said in a statement Utah should continue to recognize same-sex marriages already performed in the state as valid.

“The huge response that we have seen since the federal court’s ruling shows how important the freedom to marry is in the state of Utah,” Mejia said. “Though future marriages are on hold for now, the state should recognize as valid those marriages that have already been issued, and those couples should continue to be treated as married by the federal government.”

But at least one advocate against same-sex marriage was happy with the decision.

Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, praised the Supreme Court as he took a swipe at U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby for issuing the ruling in the first place.

“The actions of this activist judge are an affront to the rule of law and the sovereign rights of the people of Utah to define marriage,” Brown said. “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. It’s gratifying that the US Supreme Court has decided to stop this nonsense and allow the state of Utah the time to reverse it on appeal.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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