By Sandra Chereb and Harriet McLeod
CARSON CITY Nev./CHARLESTON S.C. (Reuters) - Nevada came a step closer to issuing marriage licenses to gay couples on Thursday when a conservative group withdrew last-ditch motions that sought to block an appeals court decision allowing same-sex matrimony in the state.
But even as momentum appeared to favor gay marriage in Nevada, county clerks in the state's urban centers said they were refraining from issuing licenses out of an abundance of caution until any last remaining legal questions were resolved.
The move came as hurdles 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 extend legal gay marriage to 35 states.
In South Carolina, the state Supreme Court ordered state judges on Thursday not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until a federal court rules on whether the state can continue enforcing its ban.
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.
Tara Borelli, an attorney for eight Nevada couples who challenged the ban, said the last hurdle was cleared after the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage withdrew its requests for a stay of the 9th Circuit decision. Nevada state officials say they are content to let the ruling stand.
Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, said licenses would be handed out after a federal district court issues an injunction on a state constitutional amendment barring same-sex matrimony. "At this time we do not know when that will happen," it added.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy put gay marriage on hold in Idaho on Wednesday by granting state officials' request for a stay.
Given the fast-moving legal landscape, Kennedy, the justice dealing with emergency applications from states covered by the 9th Circuit, later had to clarify that his order did not cover Nevada.
DELAY IN SOUTH CAROLINA
The South Carolina Supreme Court's instruction came after Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon accepted license applications from 19 gay couples on Wednesday.
Condon had indicated he would begin issuing the documents after a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for marriage licenses, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's action on Monday that ended bans in states including Virginia.
South Carolina is bound by the same regional federal appeals court ruling that struck down Virginia's prohibition, as is North Carolina, where gay couples on Thursday anticipated that federal judges would strike down its ban.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, had asked the state's top court to block Condon from issuing licenses, arguing that a U.S. district court judge had yet to determine the legality of the state's voter-approved ban.
Some of the gay couples gathered at the courthouse in Charleston said they were disappointed by the delay but confident they would soon get the right to marry.
"It's making history in South Carolina that applications are even being accepted," said Jennifer Rose, 28, who was seeking a license with her fiancée, Sara Meadows, also 28.
In West Virginia, which lies in the same appeals court jurisdiction, Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said his office would respect the Supreme Court's action despite complaining that it "improperly displaces state and local decision-making."
(Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Writing by Colleen Jenkins and Daniel Wallis; Editing by Will Dunham)