WASHINGTON U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy granted a request from Idaho officials on Wednesday and temporarily blocked the planned start of gay marriages in that state after a regional federal appeals court's ruling striking down the state's same-sex marriage ban.
After some confusion over whether the court's order also affected the ban in Nevada, which was struck down as part of the same 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Tuesday that invalidated the Idaho ban, Kennedy issued a second order hours later saying the stay applies only to Idaho.
On Wednesday evening, the legal fight took another twist when gay marriage opponents in Nevada filed their own application with the Supreme Court asking Kennedy to block weddings in the state. Kennedy could act on the request at any time.
Separately, the appeals court asked the parties to submit court papers by 1700 PDT on Thursday on whether that court should temporarily block gay marriage in Nevada.
The first brief order issued by the high court on Wednesday morning said that Idaho gay marriage supporters in the case should file a response to the state's emergency request by 5 p.m. EDT on Thursday. The court would then decide whether to issue a more permanent stay.
"I’m pleased that Justice Kennedy has given us the opportunity to make our case in a way that helps avoid the confusion some other states have faced," said Idaho's Republican Governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter.
For example, in Utah same-sex weddings began after the ban was initially struck down by a district court judge, but was later put on hold by the Supreme Court pending appeal.
In the meantime, gay marriages in Idaho will not immediately proceed. The order was issued by Kennedy because he is the Supreme Court justice assigned to deal with emergency applications from states covered by the 9th Circuit.
Renee McCall, pastor of a church in Idaho geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said elation turned to sadness on Wednesday morning as she and dozens of others rallied in Boise to celebrate the issue of marriage licenses to same-sex couples only to learn they would not be forthcoming.
"People were waiting in line to get licenses and they were smiling and congratulating each other. When the decision came down, many broke down in tears. It was a very, very sad moment," she said.
Unlike the Idaho case, no one in Nevada initially asked the Supreme Court to block the appeals court ruling.
The latest move by the Supreme Court follows its announcement on Monday that the nine justices would leave intact regional federal appeals court rulings that overturned gay marriage prohibitions in five states.
The high court's action, taken together with the 9th Circuit ruling the following day, means there could soon be 35 states with gay marriage, up from 19 at the beginning of the week. That would leave 15 states with bans in place.
(Additional reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho, and Sandra Chereb in Carson City, Nevada)