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Utah Takes Defense of Marriage to the US Supreme Court


John Burger - published on 07/10/14 - updated on 06/08/17

State bypasses appeals court, making case possibly the first for high court to consider on marriage.

The first half of 2014 has seen court after court strike down state laws upholding the traditional definition of marriage, but the State of€” Utah is hitting back.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office said Wednesday it will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court to argue against gay marriage, AP reported. That means the nation’s highest court will have at least one same-sex marriage case on its plate when it returns in October.

Marriage supporters applauded the move.

“Utah’s appeal is of even greater importance now in light of overnight decisions issued in the cases from Colorado and Pennsylvania,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.

In Colorado, a federal judge ruled against the state’s definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, but he did stay the effects of the ruling, Brown noted. In Pennsylvania, a county-level official’s request for standing to appeal a recent decision striking down the state’s Defense of Marriage Act was rejected by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, although without commentary.

“The Supreme Court is probably establishing the groundwork for the case it wants to hear on this matter,” Brown said. “It has seemed clear—especially in the fact that the Supreme Court unanimously stayed the former decision out of Utah—that the Justices do intend to look at this matter again themselves.”

Utah’s appeal is of a June 25 ruling from a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which found that states cannot deprive people of the fundamental right to marry simply because they choose partners of the same sex. The panel immediately put the ruling on hold pending an appeal.

The case was a challenge to a 2004 voter-approved gay marriage ban. More than 1,000 same-sex couples wed in Utah after the ban was struck down and before the Supreme Court issued a stay.

The same thing happened in Indiana, where several hundred same-sex couples married during a two-day window in June. On Wednesday, Indiana state officials said they won’t recognize those marriages—the same decision Utah made.

The office of the Utah attorney general said Wednesday in a statement the appeal will be filed in the coming weeks, to get "clarity and resolution" on the matter. 

The decision to go directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing a full appeals court, means a review from the entire 10th Circuit Court is off the table, no matter what the high court decides.

If the Supreme Court decides to take the case, it will be the first time the top court considers gay marriage since justices last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The high court is under no obligation to the take the case, and it could wait for rulings from one or more of the five other appellate courts with gay marriage cases pending, legal scholars say.

The conservative Sutherland Institute of Utah applauded the state for appealing to the highest court, saying in a statement that it gives states the chance to "defend marriage as society’s way to encourage a married mother and father for every child."

Brown said the rash of lower court decisions overturning state marriage laws was “imprudent and unwise, creating an atmosphere of legal chaos.”

“This is why we hope the Supreme Court will take up this issue again quickly,” he said, “and put an end to these flagrant abuses of authority and power.”

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