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Utah gay marriage ruling: From wedded bliss to legal limbo

Courtesy Carrie Carkhuff

Carrie, right, and Stacey Carkhuff got married Dec. 23 and are now in legal limbo due to the Supreme Court halting gay marriage in Utah.

Engaged for two years, Carrie and Stacey Carkhuff didn't waste any time when a federal judge green-lighted gay marriage in Utah on Dec. 20.

They got gussied up, put Stacey's three kids in formal wear, and went that very afternoon to the county clerk's office, which was so overwhelmed it had already stopped issuing licenses for the day.

After two more tries and hours waiting on line, the Orem couple finally tied the knot three days later. When the marriage certificate arrived a few days later, they framed it and hung it on the wall next to Stacey's bouquet. 

Now, like more than 900 other same-sex couples who exchanged vows in the last two weeks, the Carkhuffs have gone from wedded bliss to legal limbo, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court order issued Monday.

"It feels like that weight that was lifted off our shoulders is now back on and heavier," Carrie Carkhuff, 32, an assistant gas-station manager, told NBC News.

"Stacey and I were making big plans for our future. She had gotten her name changed and was getting me on her insurance — all the regular things normal married couples do. And it seems like we've taken a step back."

The Carkhuffs were able to marry after federal judge Richard Shelby on Dec. 20 upheld a challenge to Utah's voter-approved amendment banning same-sex nuptials.

Utah immediately announced plans to appeal, but Shelby refused to issue a stay, and hundreds of couples rushed to get licenses. The nation's high court granted a stay on Monday, blocking any new gay marriages until the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals hears the case later this winter.

It's still unclear, however, what the Supreme Court ruling means for the couples who have already said their "I do's." Utah's attorney general said his staff is evaluating their status.

Legal experts say the stay — which was hailed by gay marriage opponents — doesn't have any impact on how the appeal will turn out, but it still came as a blow to the Carkhuffs and other newlyweds.

"I was really confident the stay wasn't going to happen," Carrie said, explaining that she and Stacey had planned to begin the process of having a baby together now that they're married.

Courtesy Ashley Houghton

Ashley Houghton, left, and Rachel Wayment had plans to marry that are now on hold because of the Supreme Court decision.

"I'm just trying not to let it get us down. But does it make us feel like we are 'less than'? Yes."

The situation is more clear-cut for those who didn't make it to a clerk's office before Monday. Their plans are on hold until the federal appeals court rules.

Ashley Houghton, 25, of Salt Lake City, got engaged to partner Rachel Wayment, 25, in November with plans to have a commitment ceremony locally followed by a marriage out of state, which would not be recognized at home.

Then came Shelby's decision and they quickly shelved that plan in favor a June wedding in Utah with all their friends and family. Now they're not sure what their wedding will be like.

"We have all this potential to do everything we want to do with the people we love being able to witness it, and today those hopes were just kind of ripped out from under us," she said through tears.

She said that when Shelby first ruled, she and Wayment considered rushing to the clerk's office and getting a license but decided they wanted to do everything — including the ceremony and party — at the same time.

Now they don't know when they can fulfill that dream.

"It's been an emotional roller-coaster the last couple of weeks," Houghton said.

Carkhuff said she and her wife had not yet told the three kids about the stay.

"This is going to break their hearts," she said.

NBC News' Pete Williams contributed to this report.