The U.S. Supreme Court has pushed pause on same-sex marriages in Utah.
The nation’s highest court granted a stay on same-sex marriages Monday morning, which have been legal in Utah since Dec. 20 when U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby overturned Amendment 3.
The stay puts Shelby’s ruling on hold and same-sex couples cannot get marriage licenses until the state’s appeal is heard before the 10th Circuit Court.
Tooele County Clerk Marilyn Gillette said the decision was unexpected and caught many off-guard.
“The minute that was sent out, first thing, we couldn’t give [marriage licenses] anymore,” she said. “I think a lot of people were surprised. We thought it would be business as usual.”
The decision was so abrupt that the clerk’s office had not even heard about it when opening Monday morning, said Gillette.
“We had one ceremony scheduled for 2 o’clock that we had to cancel,” she said. “That’s actually how we heard about it: They called asking if they could still do it.”
An official statement from the Utah Attorney General’s Office praised the decision, citing navigating uncharted legal territory as a reason to put the practice on hold. The office previously petitioned—and was denied—three times for a stay with Shelby and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“There is not clear legal precedence for this particular situation,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes in the statement. “This is the uncertainty that we were trying to avoid by asking the District Court for a stay immediately after its decision. It is very unfortunate that so many Utah citizens have been put into this legal limbo.”
He added, “I believe this was a correct decision by the Supreme Court. There is an order to the legal process and this decision is just another step in that process. Both legal teams have much work to do before the case is presented before the 10th Circuit Court on an expedited basis.”
That case has not yet been scheduled.
Frank Mohlman, a Tooele-based attorney, said the issue is an unusual one because of how both the change in law and the stay came about. Rather than a judge making a ruling based on a trial, Shelby made his ruling based on a summary judgment.
No trial was held but the judge may have considered evidence, affidavits and other information that might have been presented at trial.
Mohlman said when that happens, especially when the ruling would have such a significant impact on a large group of people, stays are usually easily granted until the case is appealed.
“Generally, what they allow is a stay of law until the court of appeals looks at it, but the judge denied that, and the court of appeals also denied that stay, which is why it ended up at the Supreme Court,” Mohlman said. “They will go back and fully brief the summary judgment order, and that’s what the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will be considering, that summary of judgment.”
As for the marriages already performed and marriage licenses already issued to same-sex couples, Mohlman said because they were issued at a time when the law allowed it, it is likely that those will remain valid.
“They were done under what we call ‘color of law’— the licenses were granted by an official government, state government; county clerks issued the licenses,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that they will stay, but I’m not positive. But generally speaking, I think that’s the general consensus among the legal community.”