Utah scrambles to halt same-sex marriages after judge's surprise ruling

Dec 23, 2013 3:15 PM

By Erik Ortiz, Staff Writer, NBC News

State attorneys in Utah will ask a federal judge on Monday to put a temporary hold on his own ruling that made same-sex marriages legal there.

U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby made a surprise ruling Friday that struck down a 2004 state law denying gay and lesbian couples from marrying, saying the law is unconstitutional. An estimated 100 same-sex couples rushed to file for marriage licenses after the decision, which stunned both sides of the debate in a widely conservative state.

"It’s like Black Friday for gay people," MickieVee Cochrane, in line Friday at the Salt Lake County Clerk's office, told the Salt Lake Tribune.

But lawyers representing Utah are mounting an appeal and say Shelby should halt same-sex marriages during the process.

A federal appeals court in Denver on Sunday rejected the state’s initial request for a stay, essentially saying Shelby must rule on the motion first.

State attorneys said putting a temporary hold on same-sex marriages will at least avoid potential “irreparable harm” if, ultimately, the marriages are considered invalid.

“The only potential harm plaintiffs may suffer if a stay is granted is, at most, a delay in their ability to marry in Utah or, in the case of an out-of-state marriage, recognition of that marriage,” the state’s motion said. “Granting the stay simply preserves the status quo.”

Still, hundreds of couples lined up at county clerk’s offices before Monday’s hearing to obtainmarriage licenses.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has advised county clerks to check with their attorneys if they’re unsure how to proceed during the state’s appeal.

Herbert, a Republican, has called Shelby an “activist federal judge attempting to override the will of the people of Utah.”

For now, a state considered as one of the most conservative in the nation has joined the likes of California and New York to become the 18th state where same-sex couples can legally wed.

Utah is home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was one of the leading forces behind California’s short-lived ban on same-sex marriage. The church said Friday that it stands by its support for “traditional marriage” and that it hopes a higher court validates its belief that marriage is between a man and woman.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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