Same-sex couples who lined up to get married in Idaho and made plans to obtain wedding licenses in Las Vegas had their hopes dashed Wednesday after a U.S. Supreme Court justice temporarily blocked a lower-court ruling that declared gay marriage legal in Idaho and Nevada.
The states had joined the growing number of states where same-sex marriage is legal after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Tuesday that gay couples' equal protection rights were violated by gay marriage bans in both states.
In Las Vegas, the self-proclaimed marriage capital of the world, the Marriage License Bureau had expected big crowds seeking gender-neutral marriage licenses starting at 2 p.m. local time. But Clark County Clerk Diane Alba told The Associated Press those plans were on hold.
"It looks pretty clear that we're not going to issue licenses this afternoon," she said.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's order temporarily halting gay marriage came a little more than an hour after Idaho on Wednesday filed an emergency request for an immediate stay. The state's request said that without a stay, state and county officials would have been required to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Wednesday morning.
Couples were already lined up to get married, but their mood turned from joyous to devastated after the stay came down.
Amber Beierle, one of the eight women who sued Idaho over its gay marriage ban, had hoped to marry her partner, Rachael Robertson, on Wednesday.
"We were past the metal detectors, we were just a few feet away from the clerk, and then our attorney was handed a one-page document," Beierle said. "Apparently it was Justice Kennedy telling us no."
Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter said he was glad Kennedy acted quickly.
"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," Otter said. "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 delay could last just a few days. Kennedy's order requested a response from the plaintiffs involved in Idaho's gay marriage lawsuit by the end of Thursday.
The full court almost certainly would weigh in to extend the delay much beyond the weekend. That has been the justices' practice in other cases in which a single justice initially blocked a ruling from taking effect.
Officials at Lambda Legal, the gay rights advocacy organization that argued the Nevada case on behalf of eight same-sex couples, noted that only Idaho sought the stay. Jon Davidson, the group's legal director, called for the nation's highest court to clarify whether Nevada can issue marriage licenses.
He argued the Nevada and Idaho cases had been consolidated only for purposes of Tuesday's decision, and that Nevada's inclusion in the stay may have been a mistake.
"Nothing prevents clerks in Nevada from proceeding to issue licenses today," he said.
Nevada didn't seek a stay. Gov. Brian Sandoval and state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto issued a joint statement late Tuesday saying the state would take no further action. Sandoval, a Republican former federal district judge, said he determined the state had no way to defend its position after an appeals court ruling in another case in February.
Las Vegas had been preparing for gay weddings. The county's marriage licenses went gender-neutral a couple weeks ago, just in case. Chapels had photographers practice with models to see how they might best shoot two brides in gowns.
In its decision Tuesday about Nevada and Idaho's gay marriage bans, 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel that laws treating people differently based on sexual orientation are unconstitutional unless there is a compelling government interest. He wrote that neither Idaho nor Nevada offered any legitimate reasons to discriminate against gay couples.
That decision came a day after the Supreme Court turned away state appeals, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in several more states, bringing the U.S. total to 30.
The 9th Circuit order calls for Reno-based U.S. District Judge Robert Jones to promptly issue a permanent injunction invalidating the voter-approved 2002 Nevada state constitutional amendment preventing same-sex couples from marrying and denying recognition of marriages from other states. Jones didn't immediately respond to requests Tuesday and Wednesday for comment.