TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday declined to extend a stay sought by Florida officials defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, allowing gay marriages to proceed in Florida next month.
Some weddings would be allowed to start when a stay expires after Jan. 5 following an order by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta earlier this month.
“The Supreme Court once again has spoken, opening the door for marriage equality here,” said Nadine Smith, chief executive officer of Equality Florida, an advocacy group.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who asked the high court to block gay marriages earlier in the week, indicated she would not try to stop the start of marriages.
“Regardless of the ruling, it has always been our goal to have uniformity throughout Florida until the final resolution of the numerous challenges to the voter-approved constitutional amendment on marriage,” she said. “Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has now spoken, and the stay will end on January 5.”
The high court order came out of an August ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of Florida’s Northern District in Tallahassee, the first federal judge to strike down the same-sex marriage ban passed by Florida voters in 2008.
Under the order, gay marriage would be legal in 36 U.S. states, including Florida.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented from the Supreme Court’s decision.
In the past year, gay marriage advocates have largely prevailed in court rulings but a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court in November became the first to uphold gay marriage bans.
That decision, by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has been appealed to the high court, which is likely to announce in January whether it will hear it and decide on a nationwide basis whether the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage.
“We’re getting a confusing message from the Supreme Court, so I certainly hope they will take up the issue and provide some clarity,” said John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Policy Council, which campaigned for the ban.
The question of where in Florida same-sex couples may wed has been debated by local clerks of court, who received legal advice that the appellate court order applied only to one county in the northern Florida named in the case.
“This should be a clear green light,” said Stephen Rosenthal, an attorney involved in this case with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Chris Reese, Dan Whitcomb and Bill Trott