Utah to Appeal Gay Marriage Ruling to US Supreme Court as Final Holdout Counties Distribute Licenses

People line up to get marriage licenses at the Salt Lake County Government Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, December 23, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)

Ruth Hackford-Peer (L) and Kim Hackford-Peer sign their marriage certificate after getting married as Reverend Curtis Price (C) watches at the Salt Lake County office building in Salt Lake City, Utah, December 20, 2013. A federal judge struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional on Friday, handing a major victory to gay rights activists in a conservative state where the Mormon church wields considerable influence. (Photo: Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

Utah announced its plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a district judge's ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the state. The state announced its appeal plans Thursday as Utah's last four holdout counties began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, following the orders of Gov. Gary Herbert.

The office of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said that the state will consult with outside attorneys in the coming days and seek an emergency stay with the Supreme Court as soon as possible. "The Attorney General's Office is preparing an application to the United States Supreme Court requesting a stay of the district court's order," the attorney general's office said in a statement.

"Due to the necessity of coordination with outside counsel the filing of the appeal may be delayed for a few days. It is the intent of the Attorney General's Office to file with the Supreme Court as soon as possible."

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will receive the emergency appeal request because she has jurisdiction over Utah and surrounding states. The magnitude of the state's appeal could cause her to request all of the Supreme Court Justices to offer their opinion on the case.

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled Utah's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional because it violated the right to equal protection and due process under the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment. Shelby wrote in his ruling that the ban on same-sex marriage violated couples' "fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason."

Sixty-six percent of Utah's residents voted in 2004 to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman. Utah is considered to be a more conservative state on the issue of same-sex marriage, due in part to its large Mormon population and the religion's belief that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman.

On Monday, the state requested a temporary stay in the district judge's ruling, arguing that they wanted to see the case play out in the appeals court before the state actually allowed same-sex couples to start marrying.

Judge Shelby refused to grant a temporary stay in his own ruling, and the state was also denied an emergency stay by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday.

The Utah attorney general's office has said it is appealing Judge Shelby's ruling because the "federal district court's ruling that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right has never been established in any previous case in the 10th Circuit [Court of Appeals]."

As Utah announced its plans to appeal to the Supreme Court, the last of the state's holdout counties began issuing same-sex marriage licenses after Gov. Gary Herbert ordered them to do so. Four counties, including Box Elder, Utah, Piute and San Juan had previously refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses in spite of Shelby's ruling.

County clerks told the Associated Press that they had little choice in issuing same-sex marriage licenses after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant an emergency stay on Tuesday. The counties could reportedly be held in contempt of federal court if they continued to refuse to issue the licenses.

San Juan County Clerk Norman Johnson told AP that he was hesitant to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses because he feels it is not the will of the voters who put him in office over a decade ago, but ultimately the county clerks must abide by state orders. "We have no choice," Johnson said Thursday. "The scales have tipped. It's not the way I want to see things go. But the law's the law, and I accept it. It's time."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert ordered all counties to comply with Shelby's orders, although he made it clear he disagreed with the judge's ruling. "I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah."

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