Same-sex couples Natalie Dicou, left, and Nichole Christensen, middle left, and James Goodman, middle right, and Jeffrey Gomez, right, wait in line to get a marriage license at the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, after a judge ruled the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court put a temporary stop to gay marriages in Utah on Monday while the state appeals a decision that had allowed more than 900 couples to tie the knot.
Utah had asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who oversees the region, for an emergency order blocking new same-sex marriages, and she referred the matter to the full court.
Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor granted the state of Utah the stay. Freedom to marry in our state reaches a stand still. :-(— Equality Utah (@EqualityUtah) January 6, 2014
The heavily Mormon state became the nation's 18th to extend marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples when U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby weighed in Dec. 20 on a lawsuit challenging a voter-approved ban.
Shelby declined to issue a stay while the state appealed, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals also refused to put a halt to gay marriages while the case was being considered.
In a brief to the high court, Utah argued that allowing the marriages to go forward while the case was still being heard was "an affront ... to the interests of the state and its citizens in being able to define marriage through ordinary democratic channels."
Acting swiftly, the Supreme Court issued an order that means gay couples cannot marry until the 10th Circuit rules. The appeals court has agreed to hear the case on an expedited schedule.
In the meantime, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said the couples who have gotten married in the last two weeks are in "legal limbo," and state lawyers are evaluating their status.
"This is precisely the type of uncertainty we were hoping to avoid," Reyes said, referring to the request to have the district judge stay his own order immediately while the appeal was filed.
James Magleby, one of the lawyers representing the same-sex couples, called the order "disappointing."
"Every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their children are being harmed by not being able to marry and be treated equally," he said in a statement.
"However, this is just a temporary order and it is not unusual for the court to stay a decision declaring a state law unconstitutional pending appeal. Importantly, however, this temporary stay has no bearing on who will win on appeal.
NBC's Pete Williams reports on the decision which puts a temporary stop on same-sex marriage in Utah.
"We were confident when we filed the case in 2013. We were confident when we presented arguments to the District Court, and we remain equally — if not more — confident about our defense of marriage equality before the 10th Circuit."
Cliff Rosky, professor of law at the University of Utah and chair of the board of Equality Utah, agreed that the stay from the high court does not foreshadow how it might rule if the case winds up before it.
"Presumably the justices just thought the prudent thing to do here was press pause and let the case work its way up through the courts," Rosky said.
"But I think it’s very disappointing for the same sex couples of Utah and their children and their families. They want their families to be recognized and now they have to wait. That's an that incredibly sad and stressful time for them to endure."
Opponents of gay marriage hailed the decision.
"The Supreme Court has today signaled that it will not allow state laws defining marriage to be set aside by a lone judge without a careful consideration of the issues involved," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.
Reuters contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Mon Jan 6, 2014 10:46 AM EST