Supreme Court puts Utah same-sex marriage on hold

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday put same-sex marriages on hold in Utah, at least while a federal appeals court more fully considers the issue.

The court issued a brief order blocking any new same-sex unions in the state.

The order 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.

More than 900 gay and lesbian couples have married since then.

The high court order will remain in effect until the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether to uphold Shelby’s ruling.

The state’s request to the Supreme Court was filed with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from Utah and the five other states in the 10th Circuit. Sotomayor turned the matter over to the entire court.

The action now shifts to Denver, where the appeals court will consider arguments from the state against same-sex marriage as well as from the three gay and lesbian couples who challenged the ban in support of Shelby’s ruling. The appeals court had twice rebuffed the state’s plea to stop gay weddings pending appeal.

Utah changed its constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage in 2004.

Nearly two-thirds of Utah’s 2.8 million residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mormons dominate the state’s legal and political circles. The Mormon church was one of the leading forces behind California’s short-lived ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8.

Though the church has softened its stance toward gays and lesbians in recent years, the church still teaches that homosexual activity is a sin and stands by its support for “traditional marriage.” Church officials say they hope a higher court validates its belief that marriage is between a man and woman.

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