December 31, 2013
The Utah government officials defending the state’s marriage equality ban today filed a request with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to stay a district court judge’s ruling requiring the state to allow same-sex couples to wed.
Robert J. Shelby, the judge who issued the pro-marriage equality ruling a few weeks ago, refused to stay his decision pending appeal. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals later did the same, and yesterday issued an expedited briefing schedule that will conclude briefing in the case by the end of February. Utah’s last hope in its quest to stop same-sex couples from marrying–nearly a thousand couples have already done so–is with the Supreme Court. Today’s request is directed to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles requests from the Tenth Circuit. She can either rule on the request herself or refer the matter to the full court.
“Applicants respectfully apply for an immediate stay pending appeal of a judgment and injunction entered by the United States District Court for the District of Utah, invalidating and enjoining enforcement of Utah’s marriage laws to the extent they limit marriage to man-woman unions,” the filing reads. “Similar requests for a stay have been denied by both the district court and the Tenth Circuit.”
Utah’s stay request argues the case “squarely presents the question that this Court expressly left open last term in United States v. Windsor“–essentially, whether states are or are not prohibited under the U.S. Constitution from banning marriage equality. A decision by the Tenth Circuit upholding Judge Shelby’s ruling, the state points out, would create a circuit split with the Eighth Circuit–which in 2006 rejected a similar Fourteenth Amendment-based challenge seeking marriage equality–making eventual consideration of the case by the Supreme Court all the more likely.
In this light, Utah writes, the marriages currently being entered into by same-sex couples in Utah in the absence of a stay are an “an affront not only to the interests of the State and its citizens in being able to define marriage through ordinary democratic channels … but also to this Court’s unique role as final arbiter of the profoundly important constitutional question that it so carefully preserved in Windsor.”
Utah argues that states have the right to limit marriage to different-sex couples if they believe that such partnerships are the optimal environment for childrearing. “[M]aintaining the traditional definition of marriage,” the brief argues, “hold[s] up and encourage[s] man-woman unions as the preferred arrangement in which to raise children,” helping the state “increase the likelihood that any given child will in fact be raised in such an arrangement.”
Judge Shelby’s injection allowing same-sex couples to wed, Utah’s lawyers argue, “imposes certain–not merely likely–irreparable harm” and “places in jeopardy the democratic right of millions of Utahns to choose for themselves what marriage will mean in their community.”
Further, Utah expresses concern that the state could face “ever-increasing administrative and financial costs to deal with the marital status of same-sex unions performed before this case is finally resolved.”
“A stay is urgently needed … to minimize the enormous disruption to the State and its citizens of potentially having to ‘unwind’ thousands more same-sex marriages should this Court ultimately conclude, as the State strongly maintains, that the district court’s judgment and injunction exceed its constitutional authority.”
Justice Sotomayor–or the full court–could issue a decision on Utah’s stay request anytime in the coming days.
You can read Utah’s full filing here.
UPDATE (5:30 p.m. Eastern): According to SCOTUSblog, Justice Sotomayor has asked for a reply to the Utah application to be filed by noon this Friday. This means there will be no action on the stay request until Friday afternoon at the earliest.