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Federal judge upholds Utah gay marriage ruling

District Judge Shelby denied a request from attorneys hoping to block clerks from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples while the state pursues an appeal.
Jax and Heather Collins get married at the Salt Lake County clerk's office, Dec 23, 2013.
Jax and Heather Collins get married at the Salt Lake County clerk's office, Dec 23, 2013.

The same judge who on Friday opened the door for gay couples to begin marrying in the state of Utah refused to close it on Monday, denying a request from the state to temporarily delay his earlier ruling. Almost immediately after, state attorneys asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to put the kibosh on same-sex marriages while the appeals process played out.

U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby heard arguments Monday from state attorneys attempting to block clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Since they were planning an appeal, state attorneys argued a temporary stay would quell "the current frenzy" set in motion by Shelby's earlier ruling.

On Friday, the 43-year-old federal judge struck down Utah’s decade-long ban on same-sex marriage on the grounds that it violated gay and lesbian citizens’ rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Because Shelby did not issue a stay on his ruling, as most judges have done when the state is expected to appeal, some county clerks began giving marriage licenses to gay couples immediately afterward. About 100 marriage licenses were issued on Friday, and hundreds more will follow on Monday, NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

As of 7 a.m. Monday morning, the line for marriage licenses at the clerk’s office in Salt Lake City already wrapped around two floors. 

Over the weekend, Utah attorneys had filed two emergency motions for a delay on same-sex marriages with the superior court, but the 10th Circuit denied those requests because Shelby had not yet acted on the motion for a stay before him. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statement Saturday in support of a temporary stay, saying the ruling had “created a chaotic situation,” and that Utahns deserved “a fair and complete judicial process.”

Outside of Utah, gay couples can wed in 17 states, plus the District of Columbia. As the NBC First Read team notes, Utah would be the first deep-red state that Obama did not carry in the last two elections to legalize same-sex marriage.