Nevada began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples on Thursday after a district judge removed the final hurdle to same-sex matrimony in the state, hours after a conservative group withdrew a last-ditch effort to block the change.
The move came as obstacles to gay marriage fell in West Virginia even as other states pushed back against federal court actions this week, including by the U.S. Supreme Court, that could ultimately extend legal same-sex matrimony to 35 states.
Tuesday's 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling legalizing gay marriage in Nevada and Idaho came a day after the U.S. Supreme Court said it would leave intact lower court rulings that overturned bans in five states.
"I'm just so very, very pleased. I'm just ecstatic," said Mary Baranovich who along with her partner of 43 years, with whom she has raised three children, was the lead plaintiff in the legal case that challenged Nevada's ban.
Even before U.S. District Judge James Mahan issued a permanent injunction barring Nevada from preventing gay couples from marrying, Carson City confirmed it had given out its first license to a lesbian couple, Kristy Best and Wednesday Smith.
County clerks elsewhere had held off out of an abundance of caution. But as Mahan's order circulated, Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, began issuing licenses and tweeting photos of the jubilant couples who received them.
Moments after obtaining their license in Las Vegas, with flowers in their lapels, state Senator Kelvin Atkinson and his partner, Sherwood Howard, were married on the courthouse steps in the state's first legal same-sex wedding.
Tara Borelli, an attorney for Baranovich and other plaintiffs, said the last obstacle was cleared after the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage withdrew its requests for a stay of the 9th Circuit decision.
Ron Quinn and Ken Solis, who have been together for 25 years and have a 23-year-old son, were elated after getting their marriage license at the county clerk's office in Las Vegas.
"Even though we could have been married in another state, this is our home," Quinn said. "It's one of those things. You know it's coming, and then it's here, and it's real. It really happened."
Nevada state officials are content to let the ruling stand, and Republican Governor Brian Sandoval said the permanent injunction against Nevada's gay marriage prohibition would "bring finality to the issue" in the state.
After the first licenses were issued, the Coalition suggested the fight was not over, saying in a statement it will file further legal challenges backing the ban.
DELAY IN SOUTH CAROLINA
Amid a fast-moving legal landscape, a U.S. Supreme Court justice put gay marriage on hold in Idaho on Wednesday by granting state officials' request for a stay.
A federal judge in Alaska, which is also part of the 9th Circuit, will hear arguments on Friday in a lawsuit challenging that state's prohibition.
In South Carolina, the state Supreme Court ordered state judges on Thursday not to issue licenses to same-sex couples until a federal court rules on whether the state can continue enforcing its ban.
The South Carolina Supreme Court's instruction came after Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon accepted license applications from 19 couples on Wednesday.
Condon had indicated he would begin issuing the documents after a mandatory 24-hour wait period, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's action that ended bans in states including Virginia.
South Carolina is bound by the same regional appeals court ruling that struck down Virginia's prohibition, as is North Carolina, where gay couples on Thursday anticipated federal judges would strike down its ban.
In West Virginia, which is in the same appeals court jurisdiction, Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he would respect the Supreme Court's action despite complaining it "improperly displaces state and local decision-making."