The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday refused to block the country's first state-sanctioned gay marriages from taking place on May 17. The justices declined without comment to intervene and block clerks from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in Massachusetts. That state's highest court had ruled in November that the state constitution allows gay couples to marry, setting Monday, May 17, as the day the process would begin. The Supreme Court's decision, in an emergency appeal filed Friday by gay marriage opponents, did not address the merits of the claim that the Massachusetts supreme judicial court overstepped its bounds with the landmark decision.
A stay had been sought by a coalition of state lawmakers and conservative activists. A federal judge ruled against them on Thursday, and the Boston-based first U.S. circuit court of appeals upheld that decision on Friday, setting up the Supreme Court appeal. The appeals court agreed to hear arguments on a request to halt the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in June, after several weeks of such licenses being issued. The stay request had been filed with Supreme Court Justice David Souter, a Massachusetts native who handles appeals from the region. He referred the matter to the full nine-member court.
Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, told the justices that the coalition was not asking the Supreme Court "to take any position on the highly politicized and personally charged issue of same-sex marriage." Instead, Staver wrote, it wanted the court to consider whether the Massachusetts judges wrongly redefined marriage. That task should be handled by elected legislators, he said. In the Supreme Court's most recent ruling involving gay rights, justices ruled last year that states may not punish gay couples for having sex. In a dissent, however, Justice Antonin Scalia complained that the court "has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda" and was inviting same-sex marriage.