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Utah asks Supreme Court to halt same-sex marriages pending appeal

Jim Urquhart/Reuters - file

Jax Collins and Heather Collins became one of the first couples to be married Dec. 23 at the Salt Lake County Government Building after a federal judge upheld his own order making same-sex marriage legal in Utah.

Utah asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to stop same-sex marriages while it tries to overturn a judge's ruling legalizing them, calling legal recognition of the ceremonies "an affront" to its residents and the courts.

Hundreds of same-sex couples have been married in Utah in the week since the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to halt them while Utah pursues its appeal.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has jurisdiction over requests for emergency stays from the district, set a deadline of noon Friday for backers of same-sex marriages to respond.

In seeking a stay, Utah cited the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decisions this year that struck down provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's law that identified legal marriages as only those between a man and a woman. It argued that the court had found only that judges couldn't interfere with state laws allowing same-sex marriages — not that same-sex marriage was a fundamental right. Therefore, they similarly couldn't interfere with state laws restricting them.

"This case involves not just a refusal by the federal government to accommodate a state's definition of marriage, but an outright abrogation of such a definition — by a single federal court wielding a federal injunction and acting under the banner of the federal Constitution," the state's brief argued. 

The longer the ruling allowing same-sex marriages stands, the more same-sex couples will obtain legal marriages — each one, it said, "an affront not only to the interests of the state and its citizens in being able to define marriage through ordinary democratic channels ... but also to this court's unique role as final arbiter of the profoundly important constitutional questions that it so carefully preserved."

James Magleby, an attorney for the couples that challenged Utah's ban on same-sex marriages, said the couples were "disappointed that the state of Utah will spend millions of dollars in taxpayers' money to attempt to reinstate laws which deny due process and equal protection to all of Utah’s citizens.”

"It doesn’t have to be this way," Magleby said, suggesting that Utah "carefully consider its other options, in particular the fiscally responsible decision by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, to save his state from further legal expenditures and to put a divisive issue in the past"

Christie abandoned New Jersey's legal challenge to same-sex marriages in October after a similar federal court ruling.


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