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Supreme Court Halts Gay Marriages In Utah

NPR icon by Eyder Peralta
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Kim Raff

This post was last updated at 12:06 p.m. ET.

The United States Supreme Court has put same-sex marriages on hold in the state of Utah.

The order issued by the court on Monday halts same-sex marriages until an appeal is decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

If you remember, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down Utah's constitutional ban on gay marriage on Dec. 20, saying it irrationally demeans the dignity of same-sex couples. Since then, Utah has sought to put that ruling on hold, while it appeals the decision to a higher court.

After Shelby and then the full Tenth Circuit Court denied Utah's request for a stay, the state asked the Supreme Court to step in. They have now ruled in favor of Utah, halting any new marriages in the state.

Now, the case — known as Kitchen v. Herbert — is before the Tenth Circuit, which will weigh an appeal of Shelby's decision, which declared Utah's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. That appeal could take months.

James Magleby, one of the attorneys who argued the case for the same-sex couples who brought the suit against Utah, said while the stay is "disappointing," they believe they can successfully defend Shelby's decision before 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," Magleby said in a statement.

Update at 10:54 a.m. ET. Support Of The Full Court?

The short order says that Justice Sonia Sotomayor referred the request to the full court.

As Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog notes, that seems to mean that the stay has the support of the full court because the order does not note any dissent.

Lyle goes on:

"The ruling can be interpreted as an indication that the Court wants to have further exploration in lower courts of the basic constitutional question of state power to limit marriage to a man and a woman. Had it refused the state's request for delay, that would have at least left the impression that the Court was comfortable allowing same-sex marriages to go forward in the 33 states where they are still banned."

The order, by the way, does not give any reasoning for the decision. As we reported, Utah argued that allowing marriages, while an appeal is in process, would lead to confusion.

If Shelby's ruling was eventually overturned, the state argued, it would leave same-sex couples who married in Utah under a "cloud of uncertainty."

On CNN, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said it's still unclear what the status of the marriages already performed is now.

Update at 11:54 a.m. ET. Second Federal Judge:

The New York Times reports that Judge Shelby was only the second federal judge to strike down a state ban on same-sex marriage.

The first was Judge Vaughn R. Walker in San Francisco, who struck down California's Proposition 8.

Last year, the Supreme Court sidestepped a major decision on Prop. 8, when it decided supporters of the ballot measure outlawing gay marriage lacked standing to bring the case before the Court. That meant that Judge Walker's decision striking down the ban stood, but the high court decided the issue on technical grounds and did not issue a wide-ranging opinion regarding the constitutionality of gay marriage bans.

If the appeals process works its way to the Supreme Court, this may be the case that forces the high court to wrestle with the big issue, potentially handing down an opinion that settles the issue of gay marriage nationally.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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