U.S. Justice Grants Idaho's Request to Block Gay Marriage

Amber, left, and Rachael Beierle greet each other as lawyers and plaintiffs that sued the state over a gay marriage ban hold a press conference outside of the James A. McClure Federal Building and US Courthouse in Boise, Idaho October 7, 2014. Patrick Sweeney/Reuters

(Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on Wednesday granted a request from Idaho officials by temporarily blocking gay marriages from beginning, following a regional federal appeals court's ruling striking down the state's same-sex marriage ban.

There was some confusion over whether the court's order also affects the ban in Nevada, which was struck down as part of the same 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that invalidated the Idaho ban.

Nevada did not ask the Supreme Court to block the ruling. But officials in Nevada's Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, said on Twitter that the issuance of marriage licenses for same-sex couples, which was due to begin at 1700 EDT, will now be put on hold.

The brief order issued by the high court said that Idaho gay marriage supporters in the case should file a response to the state's emergency request by 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) on Thursday. The court will then decide whether to issue a more permanent stay.

"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," said Idaho Republican Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter.

In the meantime, gay marriages in Idaho, and possibly Nevada as well, will not be able to proceed. The order was issued by Kennedy because he is the justice assigned to deal with emergency applications from states covered by the 9th Circuit.

The move by the Supreme Court follows its announcement on Monday that the nine justices would not hear appeals involving previous regional federal appeals court rulings that overturned gay marriage prohibitions in other states.

In doing so, the high court elected not to provide a national ruling that settled once and for all the matter of whether U.S. states can ban same-sex couples from getting married.

The filing by Idaho said that officials have also asked the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit to place its Tuesday ruling on hold while litigation continues. Kennedy is seen as the swing vote on the nine-justice court when it comes to gay marriage.

The 9th Circuit ruling, which struck down bans in Idaho and Nevada, came just a day after the Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for gay marriage in 11 more states by declining to review those lower court rulings that struck down bans.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the bans in Idaho and Nevada violated the U.S. Constitution and cannot be enforced, adding to a growing list of states where same-sex marriages are now legal.

The 9th Circuit move puts the United States on track for legal gay marriage in 35 states, as rulings by the court are binding on all states in its region including three other states that do not permit gay marriage: Arizona, Montana and Alaska.