By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy granted a request from Idaho officials on Wednesday by temporarily blocking the planned start of gay marriages after 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 on Tuesday 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 2 p.m. local time (5 p.m. EDT), will now be put on hold.
Tara Borelli, a lawyer for the gay rights group Lambda Legal and co-counsel in the Nevada gay marriage case, said her team has sought clarification from the Supreme Court on whether the stay issue at Idaho's request also pertains to Nevada.
"Honestly we think this may have been a mistake," Borelli said.
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 on Thursday. The court would 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. For example, in Utah same-sex weddings began after the ban was initially struck down by a district court judge, but was later put on hold by the Supreme Court pending appeal.
In the meantime, gay marriages in Idaho and Nevada will not immediately 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.
Renee McCall, pastor of a church in Idaho geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said elation turned to sadness on Wednesday morning as she and dozens of others rallied in Boise to celebrate the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples only to learn they would not be forthcoming.
"People were waiting in line to get licenses and they were smiling and congratulating each other. When the decision came down, many broke down in tears. It was a very, very sad moment," she said.
The move by the Supreme Court follows its announcement on Monday that the nine justices would leave intact regional federal appeals court rulings that overturned gay marriage prohibitions in five states.
The high court's action, taken together with the 9th Circuit ruling, means there could soon be 35 states with gay marriage, up from 19 at the beginning of the week. That would leave 15 states with bans in place.
(Additional reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho, and Sandra Chereb in Carson City, Nev.; editing by Will Dunham and Matthew Lewis)