Idaho-based marriage law attorney Monte Stewart is asking U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for an immediate stay of a Dec. 20 ruling that struck down Utah’s voter-approved gay marriage ban.
Sotomayor presides over emergency requests within the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and she has the authority to review them on her own, or to forward them on to the full Supreme Court.
The Denver-based 10th Circuit has already rejected three similar requests for a stay. So has U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby, who set things in motion when he found that Utah’s Amendment 3 is an unconstitutional violation of same-sex couples’ due process and equal protection rights.
Hundreds of same-sex couples around the state have tied the knot since the judge issued his ruling, and Stewart argues that Utah and its citizens will suffer “irreparable injury” if gay marriage remains the law of the land.
“Every marriage performed uniting persons of the same sex is an affront to the sovereignty of the State and to the democratically expressed will of the people of Utah,” Stewart wrote in his 25-page application for a stay.
The state may also incur constantly increasing administrative and financial costs before the case is resolved, and same-sex couples may be irreparably harmed if their marital status is ultimately negated, he said.
“Any one of the injuries qualifies as irreparable,” he wrote. “Together they establish exceptional harm.”
Until the 10th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court can review the state’s appeal, it is in the public’s interest to put Shelby’s decision on hold, Stewart wrote.
The state’s legal team has made virtually identical arguments in the past, but Shelby found no reason to believe that Utah or its residents would be harmed in any way by same-sex marriage.
“In the absence of such evidence, the State’s unsupported fears and speculations are insufficient to justify the State’s refusal to dignify the family relationships of its gay and lesbian citizens,” Shelby wrote in his Dec. 20 ruling.
Amendment 3, on the other hand, perpetuates inequality by maintaining that the families and relationships of same-sex couples are not – and never will be – worthy of recognition, Shelby ruled.
“[The 2004 law] does not thereby elevate the status of opposite-sex marriage; it merely demeans the dignity of same-sex couples,” the judge wrote.
Critics of Shelby’s decision, including the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think-tank, have accused him of being an “activist judge.”
In a Dec. 28 posting on its website, the Sutherland Institute said the ruling bends constitutional provisions beyond recognition and invents facts to support predetermined conclusions.
“It is not, in fact, legal analysis at all but a preference dressed up in a mixture of sophistic logic, pop psychology, and conclusory reasoning,” the posting stated.
Others who were caught off-guard by the ruling had an entirely different reaction.
“It was a welcome surprise to see this sweeping change in equality rights hit Utah so soon,” Moab Pride co-founder Amy Stocks said. “I’ve always been proud to be from Moab. My pride in Utah is growing as we progress through the coming changes.”