The ruling also thrust the judge into the national spotlight less than two years after Congress approved his nomination to the federal bench. Shelby was appointed by President Barack Obama after GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch recommended him in November 2011.
Ryan Bruckman, a spokesman for the Utah attorney general’s office, said the office was asking for an emergency stay that would stop marriage licenses from being issued to same-sex couples during an appeal.
He said attorneys were drafting documents to be filed in court Friday afternoon. Louise York, the chief deputy clerk in the U.S. District Court of Utah, says the attorney general’s office can file electronically and a stay could be issued Friday night or Saturday.
Many similar challenges to same-sex marriage bans are pending in other states, but the Utah case has been closely watched because of the state’s history of staunch opposition to gay marriage as the home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The church said in a statement Friday that it stands by its support for “traditional marriage.”
“We continue to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state constitution that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court,” the church said.
The Utah ruling comes the same week New Mexico’s highest court legalized gay marriage after declaring it unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A new law passed in Hawaii last month now allows gay couples to marry there.
If the ruling stands, Utah would become the 18th state to allow gay marriages, said Jon Davidson, director of Lambda Legal, which pursues litigation on LGBT issues nationwide. That’s up from six before the U.S. Supreme Court last summer struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The District of Columbia also allows same-sex marriage.