Utah gay marriage: Weddings put on hold by US high court

Natalie Dicou, left, and Nicole Christensen, right, are married by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, middle, in the lobby of the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office in Salt Lake City 20 December 2013 Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker (centre) marries Natalie Dicou (left) and Nicole Christensen on the first day of same-sex weddings in Utah

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The US Supreme Court has halted same-sex marriages in the state of Utah pending a legal challenge to the state's ban on gay nuptials.

Gay marriage had been allowed in Utah since 20 December, when a judge ruled the state's ban was unconstitutional.

More than 900 same-sex couples have been wed since then.

The Supreme Court order halts same-sex marriage until a Denver-based federal appeals court decides whether to uphold the ruling overturning the ban.

The Denver-based US Court of the Appeals for the 10th Circuit has twice rejected attempts by Utah to stop the weddings pending appeal.

Utah's ban against same-sex marriage was passed by voters in the overwhelmingly conservative state in 2004.

In a 20 December ruling, Federal District Judge Robert Shelby said the ban violated same-sex couples' right to equal protection under the law, and found that Utah had failed to show that allowing gay marriage would harm opposite-sex couples.

The ruling dismayed Republican Governor Gary Herbert and the Mormon church, which counts two-thirds of the state's residents as members.

Labelling the Supreme Court decision "correct" on Monday, Mr Herbert told CNN: "All Utahns deserve to have this issue resolved through a fair and complete judicial process. I firmly believe this is a state-rights issue."

Meanwhile Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes failed to indicate whether the state would attempt to challenge the validity of the same-sex marriages conducted since 20 December.

"There is not clear legal precedence for this particular situation," he said in a statement. "It is very unfortunate that so many Utah citizens have been put into this legal limbo."

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