Supreme Court puts stay on same-sex marriage in Utah

The US Supreme Court unexpectedly intervened today to block enforcement of a federal district court ruling that invalidated Utah’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. The move effectively halts any same-sex marriages in the state while the case proceeds to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, a stay that the presiding federal judge refused to grant:

 The Supreme Court has put same-sex marriages on hold in Utah, at least while a federal appeals court more fully considers the issue.

The court issued a brief order Monday blocking any new same-sex unions in the state.

The order follows an emergency appeal by the state following the Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights.

The stay was issued en banc from the Supreme Court — and unanimously:

The state’s stay application was made to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who referred the decision to the whole court, according to the order issued Monday.

Is this a hint as to how the Supreme Court will rule down the line?  Probably not, although it at least expresses their desire for a more careful approach through the federal courts.  The effect of Shelby’s ruling on December 20th was to impose a federal definition for marriage regardless of how Shelby justified his ruling, rather than allow states to define it for themselves.  I’d guess that the justices wanted that kind of redefinition to take place cautiously, with a lot of scrutiny, and without the pressure of having to deal with an avalanche of faits accomplis as a complicating factor.

On the other hand, this may show how the 10th Circuit is likely to approach the issue:

Sotomayor is assigned to the 10th Circuit Court, which rejected Utah’s request for a stay three times.

This may well be a rebuke from the top court to the rest of the federal judiciary about refusing stays for obviously activist decisions. I’m not sure it says anything more than that.