An historic week for marriage equality is going out with a bang.
Late Friday afternoon, Justice Anthony Kennedy lifted a temporary hold on a ruling that struck down Idaho's same-sex marriage ban. The move means that gay and lesbian couples will be able to marry in the state as soon as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issues the mandate officially putting its ruling into effect.
"The number of states where gay and lesbian couples can wed is now 28, plus Washington, D.C. — nine more than last week."'
Within the same hour, a federal judge in North Carolina struck down that state's same-sex marriage ban, clearing the way for marriage equality to immediately take effect there. That brings the number of states where gay and lesbian couples can wed to 28, plus the District of Columbia -- nine more states than at the beginning of the week. A further seven states may soon see their same-sex marriage proscriptions fall as well.
What accounts for the sudden change? On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected appeals to hear same-sex marriage cases out of Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin -- all of which saw their bans fall in both federal district and appeals courts. The move immediately legalized marriage equality in those five states, and doomed bans in six others that make up the 4th, 7th, and 10th Circuits. Those states include Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Officials in Colorado and West Virginia quickly gave up on their states' same-sex marriage bans. But others wouldn't let go without a fight. In Kansas, a Johnson County court office issued a same-sex marriage license Friday -- the first in the state -- but the Kansas Supreme Court blocked such actions in the name of "statewide consistency."
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two Kansas couples who were denied marriage licenses this week. In South Carolina, a probate judge in Charleston County started to accept applications for marriage licenses from gay and lesbian couples, but was forced to stop when Attorney General Alan Wilson obtained an order from the state Supreme Court blocking same-sex nuptials pending a federal lawsuit.
While these efforts may delay gay and lesbian couples from marrying, legal experts believe they will ultimately fail. Kansas, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming are all bound to federal appeals courts that have ruled same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. By refusing to hear cases from those appeals courts, the justices made their rulings final.
A day after the Supreme Court's action Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada. Idaho officials, who unlike those from Nevada chose to defend their state's ban, asked for an emergency stay from the Supreme Court, and Justice Kennedy obliged. But as expected, the hold proved to be a short one. Gay and lesbian couples will soon be able to marry in Idaho, as well as in three other states with same-sex marriage bans in the 9th Circuit: Alaska, Arizona and Montana.