Utah to appeal gay marriage ruling to high court

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Utah to appeal gay marriage ruling to high court
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JUNE 25: Stormy Simon, (L), president of OverStock.com, Chris Wharton, (C) Member of Utah Pride Board, and Matthew Spencer (R) Communication Director of Restore Humanity, talk at a press conference at the Utah Pride Center after the 10th Circuit Court in Denver ruled and upheld same sex marriage in Utah on June 25, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah.The ruling overturns the voter-approved ban on same sex marriges in Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JUNE 25: Kody Partridge (R) one of three same sex couples suing Utah, hugs an unidentified women in celebration after the 10th Circuit Court in Denver ruled and upheld same sex marriage in Utah on June 25, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The ruling overturns the voter-approved ban on same sex marriges in Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 10: A gay activist is arrested by Utah Highway Patrol Officers after refusing to stop blocking the entrance of one of three hearing rooms at the Senate office building in protest of a delay in the hearing of Senate Bill 100 on February 10, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. SB100 is an anti discrimination bill that has broad support but last week it was announced by the Utah State Senate that the bill would be put on hold after a federal judge ruled Utah's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SLAT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 28: LaRenta Brinkerhoff and other demonstrators hold an anti-gay marriage rally inside the Utah State Capitol on January 28, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Several weeks ago a federal judge ruled unconstitutional a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in the state of Utah. The ruling has since been stayed and is working it's way through the legal system. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SLAT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 28: Supporters hold a pro-gay marriage rally outside the Utah State Capitol on January 28, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Several weeks ago a federal judge ruled unconstitutional a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in the state of Utah. The ruling has since been stayed and is working it's way through the legal system. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SLAT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 28: Demonstrators hold an anti-gay marriage rally inside the Utah State Capitol on January 28, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Several weeks ago a federal judge ruled unconstitutional a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in the state of Utah. The ruling has since been stayed and is working it's way through the legal system. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SLAT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 28: Charles Frost speaks to several hundred people holding a pro-gay marriage rally outside the Utah State Capitol on January 28, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Several weeks ago a federal judge ruled unconstitutional a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in the state of Utah. The ruling has since been stayed and is working it's way through the legal system. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SLAT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 28: Demonstrators hold an anti-gay marriage rally inside the Utah State Capitol on January 28, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Several weeks ago a federal judge ruled unconstitutional a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in the state of Utah. The ruling has since been stayed and is working it's way through the legal system. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SLAT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 28: Utah's Attorney General, Sean Reyes speaks to demonstrators holding a anti-gay marriage rally inside the Utah State Capitol on January 28, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Several weeks ago a federal judge ruled unconstitutional a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in the state of Utah. The ruling has since been stayed and is working it's way through the legal system. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 10: A gay activist is arrested by Utah Highway Patrol Officers after refusing to stop blocking the entrance of one of three hearing rooms at the Senate office building in protest of a delay in the hearing of Senate Bill 100 on February 10, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. SB100 is an anti discrimination bill that has broad support but last week it was announced by the Utah State Senate that the bill would be put on hold after a federal judge ruled Utah's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 10: John Fellows, (2ndL), general council for the Utah legislature, warns gay activists that they will be arrested and charged with a felony as they block the entrance of one of three hearing rooms at the Senate office building in protest of a delay in the hearing of Senate Bill 100 as Utah State Senator Stuart Reid, (L) and Utah Highway patrol officer watch on February 10, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. SB100 is an anti discrimination bill that has broad support but last week it was announced by the Utah State Senate that the bill would be put on hold after a federal judge ruled Utah's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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By BRADY McCOMBS

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah has decided to go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court to argue against gay marriage, meaning the nation's highest court will have at least one same-sex marriage case on its plate when it returns in October.

The office of the Utah attorney general announced Wednesday that it would bypass a full appeals court and take the gay marriage case to the Supreme Court instead.

If the U.S. Supreme court decides to take the case, it will be the first time the top court considers gay marriage since justices last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The high court is under no obligation to the take the case, and it could wait for rulings from one or more of the five other appellate courts with gay marriage cases pending, legal scholars say.

Utah's appeal is of a June 25 ruling from a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which found states cannot deprive people of the fundamental right to marry simply because they choose partners of the same sex. The panel immediately put the ruling on hold pending an appeal.

The Utah case is certain to pique the Supreme Court's interest, but the justices usually look for cases that involve split rulings from federal appeals courts, said Douglas NeJaime, a University of California-Irvine law professor.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments about Virginia's ban in early May, and a ruling is expected soon. Arguments are scheduled for August and September in two different courts for cases out of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Nevada and Idaho.

"My best guess it that the court will hang onto this for a while and see what happens," NeJaime said. "There are so many cases now, it will have a pick."

William Eskridge, a Yale University law professor, also doesn't expect a quick decision from the high court. The Supreme Court is under no deadline to make a decision and knows other appellate decisions are coming, he said.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' office said in a statement the appeal will be filed in the coming weeks, to get "clarity and resolution" on the matter. The decision to go directly to the Supreme Court means a review from the entire 10th Circuit Court is off the table, no matter what the high court decides.

Gov. Gary Herbert has said the state already budgeted for a need to defend the law before the Supreme Court. It is expected to cost another $300,000 to have three outside attorneys handle the case - the same amount it cost to take the case to the federal appeals court.

The Supreme Court's landmark ruling last summer allowed married same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits as other married people, but did not specifically address whether gay marriage is a constitutional right.

Since then, lower courts have repeatedly cited the decision when striking down gay marriage bans. The latest such ruling was Wednesday, when a state judge struck down Colorado's gay marriage ban. That ruling is on hold pending an appeal.

In the Utah case, the 10th Circuit upheld a lower court's decision that overturned a 2004 voter-approved gay marriage ban. More than 1,000 same-sex couples wed in Utah after the ban was struck down and before the Supreme Court issued a stay.

The same thing happened in Indiana, where several hundred same-sex couples married during a two-day window in June. On Wednesday, Indiana state officials said they won't recognize those marriages - the same decision Utah made.

The conservative Sutherland Institute of Utah applauded the state for appealing to the highest court, saying in a statement that it gives states the chance to "defend marriage as society's way to encourage a married mother and father for every child."

Plaintiff Moudi Sbeity called the decision to take the case to the Supreme Court "wonderful news." He and his partner, Derek Kitchen, are one of three couples who sued over Utah's gay marriage ban.

"We are one step closer toward having our families recognized in our home state," Sbeity said. "It's definitely a case our Supreme Court needs to hear. The faster we can move on this, the better for all of us."

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Follow Brady McCombs at https://twitter.com/BradyMcCombs

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Associated Press writer Annie Knox contributed to this report.

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