On December 20, LGBT marriage equality advocates in Utah got an unexpected Christmas present when Judge Robert J Shelby ruled that the Mormon State's voter approved ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional. Almost immediately, Utah Governor Gary Herbert and State Attorney General Sean D. Reyes promised to fight the ruling, even as hundreds of same sex couples lined up to take their wedding vows.
On January 6, the wedding party came to a crashing halt when the U.S. Supreme court ordered a temporary stay on the Utah weddings. The stay will remain in effect pending a ruling from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, to whom the State of Utah turned to have Shelby's ruling overturned.
Ryan Bruckman, media spokesperson for the Utah State Attorney General, provided SFGN with his office's official statement on this issue.
"I believe this is the correct decision by the Supreme Court," the statement reads in part. "There is an order to the legal process and this decision is just another step in that process. Both legal teams have much work to do before the case is presented to the 10th Circuit Court on an expedited basis. I believe the stay indicates an interest by the Supreme Court in this case and, as I said before, pursuing the legal process to get a final answer from the highest court benefits all citizens of Utah."
Mr. Bruckman did not respond to SFGN's question as to how a same sex marriage affects heterosexual marriages.
Judge Shelby's ruling stunned many, as Utah is one of the country's most conservative states. The Mormon Church retains its stranglehold on the State's political system. Several years ago, the church spent $80 million in order to convince California voters to pass Proposition 8, the Golden State's own gay marriage ban.
In June 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the Prop 8 case on a technicality, which tossed it back to the lower courts, which had ruled the state ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional.
One of the issues that arose in the aftermath of Judge Shelby's ruling is how it might affect marriage equality in other conservative leaning states.
"It is wonderful, of course," said Texas resident Jeffrey Downs. "I didn't even know it was being considered there. It gives me hope for Texas."
Salt Lake City resident J. Seth Anderson also wasn't sure what kind of an effect the ruling might have on the long term goals of marriage equality. "Hard to say, but my hope is that Utah goes down in the history books as the state that forced the issue with the Supreme Court, leading to national marriage equality," he said. "Poetic justice like that happens once in a life time."
Anderson and his partner, Michael Ferguson, were the first among the roughly 1,000 couples to marry before the Supreme Court put a hold on the weddings.
"The mood in the wedding registrar's office was electric because we all knew history was being made," Anderson said. "Some of the clerks working there were moved to tears when told to proceed. The other people in the office cheered, took pictures, gave us hugs and high fives. Complete strangers cried because they were so happy for us."
"Everyone in the room knew they were witnessing history in the making," Michael Ferguson said. "The room had this feeling of unusual supportiveness, instant community, and anticipation. It was lovely."
Ferguson also felt that Shelby's ruling might have a positive effect on conservative states.
"The allies who've been silent have become outspoken," he said. "We've passed the tipping point. Everyone knows how this story is going to end. Ironically, those who are retrenching and doubling down on the bigotry are actually allies as well, in the sense that the only thing they are doing is accelerating the dialectic toward its natural conclusion, and showing their stripes of animus and fundamental hatred of gay people."
Michael Aaron, publisher/editor of Q Salt Lake, Utah's monthly gay magazine added: "I think this ruling has the potential to affect each and every state with a constitutional amendment on the books. More immediately, it has the potential to affect the 10th district: Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico (which already has marriage equality), Colorado, (which has domestic partner rights) and Wyoming."
There are now more than forty lawsuits pending in twenty states that have been filed by same sex couples asking for the right to be married.