Weddings, court rulings and confusion are defining a week that started with the U.S. Supreme Court denying appeals from five states seeking to retain their bans on same-sex marriage, followed by a ruling overturning some bans in Western states. Some states affected by the decisions are going ahead with weddings; some are proceeding toward marriage deliberately; and some are putting up a fight.
Here’s a rundown of the most recent developments:
The marriage confusion even tripped up someone who should definitely know better.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy mistakenly blocked the start of same-sex marriage in Nevada in an order that spawned confusion among state officials and disappointment in couples hoping to be wed. Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg confirmed the mix-up Thursday, saying Kennedy’s order issued a day earlier was an error that the justice corrected with a second order several hours later. By that time, however, Nevada officials had decided to hold off on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Wednesday until they could be certain the legal situation was settled. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco declared bans on same-sex marriage in Idaho and Nevada illegal on Tuesday. Idaho quickly asked the Supreme Court for a delay, but Nevada planned to allow same-sex weddings to proceed. The trouble arose because Idaho’s request to the court included a document from the appeals court that listed case numbers for both states.
MOVEMENT IN OTHER STATES
A group that fought to keep Nevada’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage dropped its appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The move Thursday by the Idaho-based Coalition for the Protection of Marriage left the issue with no formal opposition Nevada. Gay marriages remained on hold, however, until a federal judge in Las Vegas officially strikes down a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2002.
Similarly, in West Virginia, the state’s attorney general said his office would no longer fight to uphold the state’s ban and would respect the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision declining to review a lower-court ruling that struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages.
The Arkansas Supreme Court refused to delay a challenge to that state’s gay marriage ban, rejecting the state attorney general who had asked the court to put the case on hold.
The South Carolina Supreme Court ordered lower state courts not to issue same-sex marriage licenses until a federal judge decides whether the state constitution’s ban on the unions is legal. The move came a day after a judge in Charleston had begun accepting applications.
A federal judge in North Carolina considered a late Wednesday request from ACLU lawyers asking him to strike down the state’s ban.
Estonia on Thursday became the first former Soviet nation to legalize gay partnerships, while Kyrgyzstan — another ex-Soviet republic thousands of miles east — considers anti-gay legislation. The parallel moves reflect starkly divergent paths taken by the countries that once were parts of the Soviet empire. In Estonia, lawmakers voted 40-38 to approve a partnership act that recognizes the civil unions of all couples regardless of sex. Twenty-three lawmakers were absent or abstained in the third and final reading of the bill. The new law will gives those in civil unions — heterosexual or gay — almost the same rights as married couples, including financial, social and health benefits provided by the government and legal protection for children. It does not give adoption rights for couples in such unions but does allow one partner to adopt the biological child of the other.
GOING TO THE CHAPEL … AND THEN LEAVING
Gay couples in Las Vegas hoping their luck had finally turned were disappointed as county clerks turned them away amid a flurry of conflicting court decisions over same-sex marriage. The confusion across Nevada was also happening elsewhere. In South Carolina, for example, a judge issued a license for a handful of gay couples, but no one got married as the state’s attorney general asked the Supreme Court for a stay. Jefferson Ruck was first in line with his partner of 14 years, Thomas Topovski, at the marriage license bureau in Las Vegas on Wednesday, watching as heterosexual brides and grooms walked to windows ahead of them. But as the day drew to a close, Ruck, 61, heard that the Clark County clerk would not issue gay marriage licenses Wednesday — and probably not Thursday, either — until officials know that the marriages can legally proceed. “My take is it’s going to happen,” he said. “So we wait.”
WAITING ON CINCINNATI
There also is growing anticipation for a ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati.
A three-judge panel heard arguments two months ago on challenges to gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, the biggest hearing of its kind on the issue.
Its eventual ruling could help determine when or even whether the Supreme Court takes up the issue. There has been no indication of a timetable by the 6th Circuit.
SO, HOW MANY STATES ALLOW GAY MARRIAGE?
It’s a little complicated. Before the Supreme Court’s denial, there were 19 states that firmly allowed gay marriage.
The Supreme Court’s action Monday added five states, plus six others that were affected because they were in the same federal circuits that appealed. That would make 30 states allowing gay marriage, but some of them are still trying to block it or haven’t yet instituted mechanisms for weddings.
Idaho and Nevada would have made 32, but Justice Kennedy temporarily blocked the Idaho ruling.
So, how many states allow gay marriage? Thirty, give or take a few.