The uncertainty over gay marriage hit couples in the West as the U.S. Supreme Court allowed same-sex couples in Nevada to exchange vows but blocked those in Idaho from doing the same.
Justice Anthony Kennedy's ruling allowed same-sex marriages to begin in the Silver State, clarifying an earlier order. Kennedy said Wednesday afternoon that he is temporarily putting on hold same-sex marriage in Idaho, where state officials have asked for the delay. Officials in Nevada didn't request a stay.
Kennedy's orders were the latest twist in the national drama unfolding as more states see same-sex unions made legal and others continue to fight such a change, leaving many couples in limbo.
The news of Kennedy's initial stay in Idaho, delivered at 8:01 a.m. to about 10 gay couples and dozens of their supporters, left a crowded room in a Boise clerk's office in silence, except for a small child asking, “Why?”
Amber Beierle, one of the eight women who sued Idaho over the gay marriage ban, had hoped to marry her partner, Rachael. They arrived at the courthouse before it opened at 8 a.m.
“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.”
She said the hardest part was calling her mom to tell her she wasn't going to be able to get married after all.
Rachael Beierle, who has had her last name legally changed, said the room was filled with emotions, but it was even more difficult listening to the children ask their parents what was going on.
“To hear a 4-year-old ask, 'Why, Mommy? Why can't you get married?'” she said. “We're asking the same questions.
There has been a flurry of legal activity over gay marriage this week.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused an appeal, which effectively made gay marriage legal in 30 states.
Then Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled gay couples' equal protection rights were violated by the gay marriage bans in both states.
Greg Flamer and Fletcher Whitwell, partners for more than 16 years and Las Vegas residents, had no designs on being among the first in line for a marriage license before the stay was ordered. They've got a wedding to plan and family to invite from Mississippi and New York.
“By that time all of these stays and all this legal nonsense will be gone and there won't be any doubt,” Flamer said.
Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said in a statement he was “pleased” with Justice Kennedy's early morning stay.
“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,” Otter said.
Both Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden filed emergency motions early Wednesday morning in an effort to delay Tuesday's ruling that declared gay marriage legal in Idaho and Nevada. Kennedy's order came just over an hour after the motion was filed.
It's unclear just how long the U.S. Supreme Court will keep the Idaho stay in effect.
“The next thing that is sure to happen is that the plaintiffs in this case will file their opposition to the stay, and then Justice Kennedy — probably sometime on Friday — will issue an opinion on whether the stay should be continued,” said Shaakirrah Sanders, an associate law professor with the University of Idaho's College of Law in Boise.
The 9th U.S. Circuit's decision to make its Tuesday ruling effective immediately was unusual, Sanders said, because it removed the procedural grace period that parties to a case normally have to appeal. The stay from Kennedy could be less about wanting to consider the results of the case and more about reminding the 9th Circuit that it shouldn't skirt the rules, she said.
Officials at Lambda Legal, the gay rights advocacy organization that argued the Nevada case on behalf of eight same-sex couples, noted only Idaho sought the stay.
Jon Davidson, the group's legal director, had called for the nation's highest court to clarify whether Nevada can issue marriage licenses.