By David Lauter and Tim Phelps
The Supreme Court on Monday put same-sex marriages on hold in Utah until a federal appeals court can rule on whether the state law banning the practice violates the Constitution.
The unsigned, one-paragraph order did not spell out the court's reasoning in the case; orders that put lower-court decisions on hold frequently do not do so. The order did not indicate any dissents.
The decision will block further same-sex marriages in Utah for at least several weeks. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Denver, has told both sides in the dispute to submit legal arguments by the end of this month.
The appeals court is expected to hold an argument quickly after the briefs are submitted.
In late December, a U.S. District Court judge in Utah ruled that that state's ban on gay marriage violated the Constitution, a major expansion of gay rights beyond what the Supreme Court had ruled in two landmark cases in June.
The judge surprised legal experts by putting his ruling into effect immediately, allowing hundreds of gay couples to marry.
The high court's decision suggests that the justices were not prepared to allow a single district judge to decide that the Constitution gives gays and lesbians a right to marry, regardless of state laws.
Last year, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that denied benefits to legally married same-sex couples, but it stopped short of ruling that these couples have a right to marry.