Gay rights advocate Vin Testa waves a rainbow flag in front of the Supreme Court at sun up in Washington, Wednesday, June 26, 2013.
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - The Supreme Court put a stop to same-sex marriages in conservative Utah on Monday pending the state's appeal of a federal district court's order that had legalized the unions.
The high court, acting on a petition sent to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, ruled that gay marriages can not continue during the appeals process. The case is now pending before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled Dec. 20 that the state's ban on same-sex marriage violates gay and lesbian couples' constitutional rights. Since then, more than 900 gay and lesbian couples have tied the knot.
The same-sex marriage case was one of two emergency petitions pending before Justice Sotomayor. In the other case, she's asked to stop the new federal health care law from forcing religious groups to begin the process of providing free birth control. The high court has yet to rule on that request.
Despite two landmark Supreme Court decisions in June that vastly expanded same-sex marriage rights in states from Maine to California, gay and lesbian couples in 33 states remain outside the bonds of holy matrimony. Utah is one of those states.
The court ruled in June that gay marriages could resume in California because the opponents challenging lower court rulings lacked standing. In that case, gays and lesbians couldn't marry until the appeals had run out.
The justices also struck down a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that it discriminated against same-sex couples. The reasoning in that more sweeping decision was used by Shelby in legalizing Utah gay marriages.
The ruling was heralded by opponents of same-sex marriage. "The decision by a single federal judge to redefine marriage in Utah is lawless, and we are pleased that the Supreme Court has put this decision on hold to allow the state to appeal it in an orderly fashion," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.
The Salt Lake City county clerk's office, which issues marriage licenses, said couples are being told of the court's decision and are being sent a statement from the state attorney general's office.
"I'm not surprised that the U.S. Supreme Court would do this. They're more conservative," said retired Utah state representative Jackie Biskupski. She performed at least a dozen weddings at Salt Lake City's government center in the days following the original ruling.
The reaction to the same-sex unions in Salt Lake City was positive, she said. "There were no protests here ever. I think that speaks volumes about how the general public here is ready to say, 'We're done with this fight. Let's start treating people equally. We don't like what it's doing to our families and our friends.'"
Across the nation, more than 40 lawsuits seeking marriage rights for gays and lesbians are pending in 20 states. Trials are set for February in Michigan and June in Pennsylvania. A case in Nevada already has been lost and appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In addition to basic marriage rights, some plaintiffs are seeking to adopt children, divorce spouses they married in other states, get their names on partners' death certificates or avoid inheritance taxes. A Kentucky woman in a civil union from Vermont wants a spousal exclusion from being forced to testify against her partner in a criminal trial.
And in several cases, couples legally hitched in one of the 17 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal are seeking to have those marriages recognized elsewhere.
Contributing: Elizabeth Weise in San Francisco.
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