U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy put gay marriage on hold in Idaho on Wednesday to the disappointment of couples planning to wed, just a day after a regional federal appeals court struck down bans on same-sex nuptials there and in Nevada.
Hours after agreeing to Idaho's request for a temporary stay, Kennedy clarified that his ruling did not apply to Nevada, where officials have indicated they are ready to embrace gay marriage and have no plan to challenge Tuesday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The high court said supporters of gay marriage in Idaho should file a response to the state's request for a stay by 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) on Thursday. The court would then decide whether to issue a more permanent stay but gay marriages will not proceed in the meantime.
"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, who has called the 9th Circuit ruling "disappointing."
Later on Wednesday, 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 there.
Kennedy, who is the Supreme Court justice assigned to deal with emergency applications from states covered by the 9th Circuit, could act on that request at any time.
The legal twists and turns left uncertainty over whether marriage licenses could be issued to gay couples in Nevada. Clerks in southern Nevada's Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, and in Washoe County in northern Nevada said they were not issuing licenses for the moment.
"I haven't gotten that word from my counsel yet and apparently people are still wildly filing documents," said Washoe County Clerk Nancy Parent. "Why put people in jeopardy?"
Separately, the 9th Circuit asked the parties to submit court papers by 5 p.m. PDT (midnight GMT) on Thursday on whether that court should temporarily block gay marriage in Nevada.
Elation turns to sadness
Renee McCall, pastor of an Idaho church geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said elation turned to sadness on Wednesday 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.
Wednesday's 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.
But the ups and downs in the 9th Circuit case did not stop others from taking advantage of the momentum on gay marriage.
In South Carolina, where gay marriage is banned, a judge said he would issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple on Thursday unless a higher court stops him.
Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon accepted an application from the lesbian couple on Wednesday and said he plans to issue it after the mandatory 24-hour waiting period.
And in Kansas, which also prohibits same-sex nuptials, Judge Kevin Moriarty of the Johnson County District Court told the county clerk on Wednesday to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, an assistant to the judge said. Johnson County, which borders Kansas City, is the state's most populous county.