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Supreme Court halts gay marriages in Utah, pending appeals court decision

An injunction by a federal judge in Utah last month has allowed more than 900 gay couples to marry. The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to block that injunction while litigation continues.

The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to block an injunction by a federal judge in Utah that has allowed hundreds of gay and lesbian couples to immediately marry despite continuing litigation over the state’s ban on such marriages.

The high court action means that the ban will remain in place pending the final outcome of an appeal to the10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

The appeals court agreed to expedite the appeal, but it declined to block the Dec. 20 decision by US District Judge Robert Shelby invalidating all Utah laws and a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages.

The judge ruled that gay and lesbian couples enjoy a fundamental right to marry and that the state ban violated rights protected under the US Constitution. The US Supreme Court has not directly addressed that issue.

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Following the decision and the appeals court’s ruling not to issue a stay during the appeal, more than 900 couples obtained marriage licenses and were married in Utah. The legality of those marriages may be in doubt should Judge Shelby’s decision be overturned on appeal at the 10th Circuit or by the Supreme Court.

The Utah governor and attorney general are seeking to uphold the state’s ban on same-sex marriages. The ban is contained in two statutes passed by the Legislature and by a constitutional amendment endorsed by 66 percent of voters in a 2004 statewide ballot.

The application to block Shelby’s injunction was filed last week with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency applications from states within the jurisdiction of the 10th Circuit.

Justice Sotomayor had the authority to decide the issue herself, but referred it to the entire court. The two-sentence order on Monday did not indicate how the nine-member court voted on the issue.

“The permanent injunction issued by the United States District Court for the District of Utah … is stayed pending final disposition of the appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit,” the order says.

In the next stage of the case, the Utah Attorney General’s Office will ask the 10th Circuit to reverse Shelby’s decision. Lawyers for three same-sex couples who brought the initial lawsuit will urge the appeals court to uphold the lower court ruling.