The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday temporarily blocked [order, PDF] the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in Utah. The Utah Attorney General [official website] filed an application for stay [text, PDF] with the court last week to block same-sex marriages pending the state's appeal of a US district judge's December 20 decision [JURIST report] striking down the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. Three similar applications to the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] have already been rejected [JURIST report]. In the application for stay, the attorney general argued [JURIST report] that the district court's decision to strike down the ban on same-sex marriage is an "impermissible federal intrusion on state power" to define marriage. Meanwhile, supporters of same-sex marriage urged the Supreme Court to reject the request to stay [JURIST report] the district court's ruling. The court responded with a brief order to stay the ruling pending expedited review by the appellate court but offered no word on the constitutionality of the issue. While the Supreme Court's ruling puts a hold on same-sex marriages in Utah only, the upcoming Tenth Circuit decision could have an affect on all states within its jurisdiction.
Same-sex marriage has been a controversial issue in the US and internationally. Last month the US District Court for the District of Utah ruled that Utah's constitutional and statutory bans on same-sex marriage violated due process and equal protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. The same day that the Utah ruling was issued, the Uganda parliament passed a bill limiting the rights of same-sex couples and imposing a penalty of up to life imprisonment [JURIST report] for involvement in homosexual relationships. Earlier that week, New Mexico's high court ruled that it is unconstitutional [JURIST report] to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. The same week, the US executive branch announced that it would begin processing Social Security payments [JURIST report] to surviving couples in accordance with a US Supreme Court ruling [JURIST report] issued this summer which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act [text], a federal statute that defined marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman for all federal purposes and refused to recognize any other type of marriage.