Utah wins delay in recognizing same-sex marriages; licenses stopped in Colorado

(CNN) -- Utah officials for the time being do not have to formally recognize hundreds of same-sex marriages performed last December and earlier this year, after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday granted the state's request for a delay.

Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes had told the justices the issue of whether the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional remains pending in the lower courts.

Having to recognize those same sex marriages before the larger legal questions are fully decided, said the state, would be too disruptive.

Once the constitutional issues are fully resolved --- likely by the Supreme Court in the next year or so -- both sides in the debate "will know the status of the interim marriages. Until then, requiring [the state] to recognize plaintiffs' marriages and provide marital benefits is premature and unwarranted," said the appeal.

In a one-paragraph order, the high court agreed. But that temporary action does not signal what the justices will ultimately think about the larger constitutional issues raised by gay and lesbian couples seeking a right to wed.

A federal appeals court late last month affirmed Utah's voter-approved Amendment 3 violated the equal protection rights of same-sex couples. The law currently defines marriage only between one man and one woman.

A group of plaintiffs then asked that court to order the state to recognize those marriage licenses already issued in late December and January. The judges did so, prompting the state's current stay request to the Supreme Court

About 1,300 same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses in the 17 days after a federal judge ruled on December 20 that Utah's ban was unconstitutional. Those marriages were stopped after a separate, temporary stay was put in place in January by the Supreme Court. That was the issue in the current litigation.

The case is Herbert v. Evans (14A65).

Same-sex marriages also were the subject of a ruling in Colorado on Friday.

County clerks in the Denver area have been ordered by the state's highest court to cease issuing same-sex marriage licenses, until the issue is fully decided.

The state attorney general had asked for the injunction, saying he plans to defend Colorado's voter-approved measure defining marriages as only between one man and one woman.

John Suthers had argued allowing those marriages to go through while the issue is still being debated in the courts would be "legal chaos."

After local judges in Colorado in recent weeks week also ruled the state's ban to be unconstitutional, several local clerks -- in Denver, Adams, Pueblo, and Boulder -- said they had to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples who requested them. But the state high court's action puts all that on hold for the time being.

The same federal appeals court that acted in the Utah case on Friday also tossed out Oklahoma's ban. Both states plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to have the final say.

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