Supreme Court Not Done With Same-Sex Marriage
For those who were disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court did not definitively address the legality of same-sex marriage last term, 2014 may be your year. The justices recently issued a stay in a case involving Utah’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one.
The Supreme Court decision adds another level to the complex litigation now unfolding in the wake of the Court’s historic decisions in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry. In December, a federal judge ruled that the Utah law essentially banning same-sex marriages violated the U.S. Constitution. The court also rejected arguments by the state of Utah that the federal government should not be able to intervene in a state’s decision to ban same-sex marriage, just like it cannot overturn a state’s decision to legalize such unions.
“The court holds that Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law,” Judge Robert J. Shelby concluded. “The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason.”
In the wake of the decision, hundreds of same-sex couples were married in Utah. However, the legality of these unions is now in limbo while the state appeals the ruling. While the federal appeals court refused to block enforcement of the ruling while the appellate process unfolded, the U.S. Supreme Court did grant an emergency stay.
The order allows Utah to enforce its bans of same-sex marriage until the conclusion of the litigation. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has put the case on an expedited briefing schedule, with all briefing scheduled to conclude by February 25.
In the meantime, couples that were married during the brief window when same-sex marriage was legal have to been told by Utah state officials that their unions will not be recognized. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice announced that the federal government will honor the marriages for the purposes of federal benefits.
While the Supreme Court may like to sidestep the issue once again, the justices are the only ones who can unravel the legal mess and ultimately determine whether such bans of same-sex marriage are constitutional.
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