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Supreme Court Steps In To Put Hold On Va. Same-Sex Marriage Licenses


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. The United States has Supreme Court has stepped in to block an Appeals Court ruling on gay marriages. The ruling would have allowed same-sex marriages to begin in Virginia tomorrow, but that is now on hold. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg joins us in the studio now. Hi Nina.


SIEGEL: How significant is the Supreme Court's move today?

TOTENBERG: Well, the decision really was widely expected. It's similar to one halting marriages in Utah earlier this summer. And neither tells us anything about how the court will ultimately rule on the issue of same-sex marriage.

SIEGEL: Now, the Attorney General of Virginia on behalf of the state, took an interesting position in this case. Could you explain that to us?

TOTENBERG: Sure. While state officials want the Supreme Court to strike down the ban on gay marriage, they also urged the court to put a hold on the immediate issuing of marriage licenses in the state. And one of the factors the court traditionally considers is whether there's a likelihood of irreparable harm if the court fails to block implementation of a lower court decision. And in a brief filed with the Supreme Court, state officials acknowledged that the loss of the right to marry, even for, quote, "minimal periods of time" - excuse me - "minimal periods of time unquestionably constitute irreparable injury." On the other hand, the state said if the Supreme Court ultimately were to uphold the ban on same-sex marriage, it would render doubtful hundreds of thousands of same-sex marriages that would've taken place in the interim. [POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that Virginia said that if the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the ban on same-sex marriage, it would have "rendered doubtful" hundreds of thousands of same-sex marriages. The state actually said hundreds or thousands of same-sex marriages.] Moreover, the state said the children of same-sex couples would be irreparably harmed because more than 2,500 same-sex couples in Virginia are raising about 4,000 children. And officials said that had the court failed to issue a stay, there was a possibility that many of those who are biological children of one parent would have been adopted by the other parent, once married, and would have had to be unadopted if the marriages are ultimately ruled illegal. And similarly, employers and insurers who pay benefits to same-sex spouses of employees might have sought restitution should the Supreme Court uphold the ban. So for all of these reasons, the state urged the court to take the step that it did today in temporarily blocking implementation of the lower court decision, which, to reiterate, had struck down the ban on gay marriage.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) So what about the timing of this? Is the Supreme Court going to actually decide this issue? And if so, when will they do it?

TOTENBERG: Well, Virginia, like Utah, has asked the justices to decide the question as quickly as possible. And it now seems to be a given that the court will take on the issue this term. And the first opportunity for it to start the ball rolling would be when it meets September 29 for its first conference of the new term. It meets behind closed doors. But even if the Court decides grant review in the Utah or Virginia case, the timetable for filing briefs would put the argument at mid-to-late January at the earliest, with a decision likely in the spring.

SIEGEL: But there are lots of lower courts all over the country that are set to hear arguments on gay marriage. If the Supreme Court says it's going to hear one of these cases what happens with those cases there are ongoing on the lower courts?

TOTENBERG: Well, my guess is they'll freeze in place. Why would the lower court judges want make work for themselves and keep going when they know it's going to be decided by the Supreme Court?

SIEGEL: And just to give us a sense of this, how many - well, what is the status right now around the country of gay marriage?

TOTENBERG: Well, so far there are 37 pro-gay marriage rulings in state and federal courts since the Supreme Court last year struck down the Defense of Marriage Act - and that was the federal law that barred the recognition of marriages performed in states where such unions are legal. That nearly unanimous string of decisions by both Republican and Democratic appointees, has really been astonishing, Robert, and perhaps even unprecedented for such a controversial issue.

SIEGEL: That's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 21, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story stated that Virginia said that if the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the ban on same-sex marriage, it would have "rendered doubtful" hundreds of thousands of same-sex marriages. The state actually said hundreds or thousands of same-sex marriages.
Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.

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