The U.S. Supreme Court reinstated Utah’s traditional marriage law today, issuing a stay on a federal judge’s order blocking the law. The full court’s emergency stay on the judge’s ruling, without any dissents, indicates the court wants more discussion about states’ roles in defining marriage.
In its major 2013 cases on gay marriage, the Supreme Court did not decide the big question of whether states have the power to ban the unions. In its ruling last summer on California’s Proposition 8, the high court merely said supporters of the state’s traditional marriage law lacked standing to defend it in court. That allowed gay marriages to move forward in the state but did not address the fundamental constitutional question.
In late December, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby issued an injunction against Utah’s traditional marriage law and gay couples in the state began marrying. Utah appealed the decision to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and also requested an emergency stay on Shelby’s decision. The 10th Circuit agreed to hear the case but denied the emergency stay, so Utah asked for a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Sonia Sotomayor handles emergency requests from the 10th Circuit, and she referred the question to her colleagues.
The full court quickly issued a stay on Shelby’s decision, pending the 10th Circuit’s decision. It’s unlikely the high court will hear a case this term on the issue of state traditional marriage laws, but the issue will reappear soon.
Thirty-three states currently have laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman.