By Bill Mears
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed same sex-marriage to move ahead in Nevada, but maintained a temporary hold in neighboring Idaho.
A federal appeals court Tuesday struck down current bans in the two states, and later ordered its ruling to go into effect immediately. Idaho officials then asked the high court to intervene on an emergency basis and block enforcement of that lower court mandate.
Within an hour of receiving the state’s application Wednesday morning, Justice Anthony Kennedy issued a brief order, and gave same-sex couples opposing the ban until Thursday to file a written response.
Presumably, the high court will then issue a subsequent order on whether gay and lesbian couples in Idaho can get married in the near future.
The immediate status of same-sex marriage in Nevada is less clear, although officials could soon allow marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples.
Further appeals from Idaho in coming weeks could tie up the issue in the high court for months.
“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 Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in a statement. “I intend to be faithful to my oath of office and keep working to protect the Idaho Constitution and the mandate of Idaho voters in support of traditional marriage.”
The case is the latest in a series of rapidly evolving legal events this week on the controversial social issue.
In a surprise move Monday, the justices refused to get involved now in the constitutional debate over same-sex marriage. That decision allowed same-sex couples to wed legally in five states — Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
Utah is among the states where marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples for a brief period before stays were issued by the courts earlier this year, leaving a good deal of uncertainty over whether those marriages were valid.
A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals had concluded the bans in Idaho and Nevada violated the equal protection rights of homosexuals to legally marry.
“The lessons of our constitutional history are clear: inclusion strengthens, rather than weakens, our most important institutions,” said the judges. “When same-sex couples are married, just as when opposite sex couples are married, they serve as models of loving commitment to all.”
Following what the Supreme Court did a day earlier, at least 32 states and perhaps three more could allow same-sex marriage in coming weeks, an increase of at least 13 states since the beginning of the month. Colorado and Utah announced Tuesday it would order county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The decisions affecting Idaho and Nevada become the fourth such federal appeals court to strike down voter-approved bans since June.