SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that gay marriages can continue in Utah, denying a request from the state to halt same-sex weddings that have been occurring at a rapid rate since last week.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' rejection of Utah's request for an emergency stay marks yet another legal setback for the state. The same federal judge who ruled that Utah's same-sex marriage ban violates gay and lesbian couples' rights previously denied the state's request to halt the marriages.
The appeals court said in its short ruling that a decision to put gay marriage on hold was not warranted, but said it put the case on the fast track for a full appeal of the ruling.
Utah's last chance to temporarily stop the marriages would be the U.S. Supreme Court. That's what the Utah Attorney General's Office is prepared to do, said spokesman Ryan Bruckman. "We're disappointed in the ruling, but we just have to take it to the next level," Bruckman said.
Gov. Gary Herbert's office declined comment on the decision.
Carl Tobias, a constitutional law professor at Virginia's University of Richmond who has tracked legal battles for gay marriage, thinks Utah faces long odds to get their stay granted, considering two courts have already rejected it and marriages have been going on for days now.
"The longer this goes on, the less likely it becomes that any court is going to entertain a stay," Tobias said.
The appeals court ruling means county clerks can continue to issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians. More than 700 gay couples have obtained marriage licenses since Friday, with most of the activity in Salt Lake City.
One of the couples that brought the case, Moudi Sbeity and Derek Kitchen, were driving home from the grocery store when their attorney called with the good news. Sbeity said it's wonderful that multiple levels of courts are making it clear there's no room for discrimination.
"It seems like we win over and over again. This is crazy," Sbeity said. "This has been the best Christmas gift ever."
Judge Robert J. Shelby's decision to strike down a law passed by voters in 2004 drew attention given Utah's long-standing opposition to gay marriage and its position as headquarters for the Mormon church. It made Utah the 18th state where gay couples can wed.