Court: Gay marriages in Utah can continue

A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected Utah’s emergency request to halt gay marriages in the state, days after a federal judge struck down a constitutional amendment preventing same-sex couples from wedding.

The federal panel ruled a stay that would have halted gay marriages from moving forward as the state appealed the original ruling was “not warranted.”

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That means gay couples in Utah can continue to marry in the interim. According to The Associated Press, more than 700 gay couples have obtained marriage licenses since Judge Robert Shelby ruled the 2004 referendum was unconstitutional.

The state is expected to now ask the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s decision and implement an emergency stay while the state readies its appeal. Justice Sonia Sotomayor oversees such requests for the 10th Circuit of Appeals, and can decide unilaterally whether to deny the request, institute the stay or refer the request to the full court.

The 10th Circuit Court did say in its ruling that it would direct “expedited consideration” of the appeal.

Shelby’s surprise ruling has been widely praised by gay rights activists, although public officials in Utah have complained that immediately allowing gay marriage has created logistical headaches. State agencies are scrambling to figure out how to extend equal benefits to gay couples, while the state’s tax agency has yet to issue guidance about whether same-sex couples could file joint income tax returns.

Some county clerks in the heavily Mormon state have also refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses over the advice of the state attorney general.

If Shelby’s ruling stands, Utah will be the 18th state to permit gay marriage.