Utah, growing desperate, to ask Supreme Court to halt gay marriages

A federal judge overturned Utah's ban on gay marriage last Friday, but the state wants to delay implementation until all appeals are over. Officials plan to turn to the US Supreme Court for help.

Benjamin Zack/Standard-Examiner/AP
Hundreds of people line up outside of the county clerk's office in the Weber Center in Utah on Monday morning, the first day that Weber County began accepting applications for same-sex marriage licenses.

Utah officials announced Thursday that they will attempt to go to the United States Supreme Court “as soon as possible” to keep a state ban on same-sex marriages in place. 

The announcement signals the state’s urgency to find a resolution to the decision by a federal judge last Friday, which overturned a 2004 voter-ratified ban on same-sex marriage. The state has since made four requests that implementation of the ruling be delayed until the appeals process is finished, but each has been denied. Utah could file its request to the Supreme Court for a stay by early next week.

In the meantime, county clerks' offices have been flooded with requests for marriage licenses from same-sex couples. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, 905 licenses have been given to same-sex couples since last Friday, despite offices being closed on holidays. Some counties are also defying the court order and refusing to grant same-sex marriage licenses until the appeals process is over.

If Friday's ruling is overturned and the ban on gay marriage reinstated, the legal status of same-sex couples given marriage licenses would be in limbo, though some experts suggest that the licenses might remain legal.

Utah is currently the 18th state to allow same-sex marriage.

Utah's request to the US Supreme Court would go to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is assigned oversight of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Utah. She could either rule on the issue herself or refer it to the full court. If she denies the request, the state has the option of requesting that it be heard by the full high court, but that process would likely involve some delay.

Working against Utah officials are the previous denials, in particular one by the 10th Circuit. The denials suggest that there is skepticism concerning the state’s arguments, including its claim that continuing to issue marriage licenses before the case has run its full course will do “irreparable harm” to the state. The state also needs to show its argument is strong enough to win an eventual appeal.

By contrast, when a federal judge struck down California's Proposition 8 gay-marriage ban in 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay, which was kept in place until this June, when the US Supreme Court ruled in the case.

So far, the flood of marriage licenses has provided an unexpected financial benefit for the state: More than $49,000 in nearly three days.

“It’s been really dramatic. I would guess on Monday we were seeing 90 percent same-sex couples,” Weber County Clerk Ricky Hatch told the Tribune.

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