Utah's decision to ask the nation's highest court to review a federal appeals court ruling in favor of gay marriage nudges the issue closer to the U.S. Supreme Court.
State officials said Wednesday they plan to ask the justices to review a June 25 ruling from a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found Utah's same-sex marriage ban violates the Constitution. It was the first time an appellate court found a Supreme Court decision last year means states cannot deny gays the right to wed.
The high court is under no obligation to the take the case, and it may wait for rulings from one or more of the five other appellate courts with pending gay marriage cases. But the pressure is mounting with same-sex marriage bans falling across the country.
Including Wednesday's by a judge in Colorado who struck down that state's ban, gay rights activists have won 20 court cases over the past year. Here are some key things to know about the gay marriage movement and where it's headed:
WHEN DOES THE ISSUE RETURN TO THE SUPREME COURT?
Legal experts say the Supreme Court eventually will take a gay marriage case, even though it is not required to take up the issue. But they say it won't do so until 2015 at the earliest.
The 10th Circuit panel is the first to rule out of six circuits hearing appeals. In any of the appellate cases, the losing party can appeal directly to the Supreme Court, or first ask for the entire appellate court to review the ruling.
It's unclear which case would reach the high court first. The Supreme Court also could hold off and see how the nation's appellate courts rule. It often waits until there is a conflict between appellate courts before taking a case.
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF GAY MARRIAGE CASES IN OTHER APPEALS COURTS?
Judges in a total of six federal appeals courts and one state appeals court are hearing appeals of lower court rulings that overturned gay marriage bans or ordered states to recognize out-of-state marriages.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments about Virginia's ban in early May, and a ruling is expected soon. Arguments are scheduled for Aug. 6 in the 6th District Court of Appeals to discuss cases out of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee; and Sept. 8 in the 9th District Court of Appeals for cases out of Nevada and Idaho.
The ruling by the 10th Circuit panel is now law in the six states covered by the court: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. But gay marriages won't be happening in those states — at least not right away — because the 10th Circuit immediately put its decision on hold pending an appeal.
WHAT TRIGGERED THE SERIES OF PRO-GAY MARRIAGE DECISIONS?
The Supreme Court last year found that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that forbade the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage improperly deprived gay couples of due process. That ruling came as polls showed a majority of Americans now support gay marriage.
Lower-court judges repeatedly have cited that decision when striking down gay marriage bans.
So far, federal and state judges have ruled against bans in Arkansas, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana and Colorado. They have ordered Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
Gay marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.