Same-sex marriage is expected to begin soon in Nevada and West Virginia, and when that happens it will make for a nationwide majority of states allowing gays and lesbians to legally wed.
In Nevada a private group that had led the legal fight to defend the voter-approved ban, suddenly withdrew its pending appeal for a stay with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The justices on Thursday quickly removed that case from their docket, likely the last legal hurdle to allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally wed in the Silver State.
In West Virginia, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, announced Thursday he would not challenge federal court rulings on same-sex marriage, clearing the way for the practice to begin statewide.
“West Virginia will uphold the law according to these rulings, and I have directed state agencies to take appropriate action to make that possible,” he said in a statement. “I encourage all West Virginians — regardless of their personal beliefs– to uphold our statewide tradition of treating one another with dignity and respect.”
The Mountain State’s Health and Human Resources Department later said county clerks would begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples by Tuesday “at the latest.”
Nearly 3,000 same-sex couples live West Virginia, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, a think tank conducting research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.
This follows the Supreme Court’s refusal Monday to intervene in legal challenges over voter-approved bans in five states: Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana and Wisconsin.
That meant three separate appeals court rulings striking down those bans as unconstitutional would go into effect quickly in those states, as well as six others covered by those courts’ jurisdiction. That would include West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming.
Some states and localities are moving faster than others to abide by those rulings. Colorado’s attorney general and the state’s highest court on Tuesday ended all pending legal obstacles, allowing same-sex marriage to begin there.
A judge Wednesday in Johnson County, Kansas — the state’s largest county — also ordered same-sex licenses to be issued.
But the South Carolina Supreme Court put things on hold while it continues to review the matter, meaning no licenses will be issued to same-sex couples in the Palmetto State. That request for a stay on enforcement came from state officials.
West Virginia and Nevada would become the 26th and 27th states to allow same-sex marriage, up from 19 states just a week ago. The number could top 35 in coming weeks, as other states move to enforce federal court orders.
The issue had been initially uncertain in Nevada after a federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled bans in Nevada and neighboring Idaho were unconstitutional. The judges on that panel later that evening ordered same-sex marriages to begin immediately, but parties in Idaho and later Nevada separately asked the high court for emergency action, to put things on hold while the appeals process continued.
Nevada officials had delayed issuing marriage licenses on Tuesday to same-sex couples because of initial confusion from the Supreme Court over whether the state had such authority.
The Idaho application is still pending at the high court.
Also unclear is when same-sex marriages would begin in Nevada, which could require orders from state agencies directing county clerks to issue marriage licenses.
Nevada’s legal situation was somewhat unique. A federal judge had initially ruled Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage could stand, but the state attorney general later refused to defend the law in court, saying it would likely be struck down by the federal appeals court. A three-judge panel of Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did just that in a sweeping ruling earlier this week.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, in February had said that for a variety of procedural and precedential reasons, “It has become clear that this case is no longer defensible in court.”
A private group, the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, then stepped in to defend the 2002 voter referendum, known as Question 2. That was the group that withdrew its appeal to the high court Thursday.
There are an estimated 7,000 or more same-sex couples in Nevada, according to the Williams Institute.
The Nevada case at the Supreme Court is Coalition for the Protection of Marriage v. Sevcik (14a378).
Here is a listing of the 25 states that allow same-sex marriage, following the Supreme Court’s decision Monday not to review lower court rulings striking down voter-approved bans: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington state and Wisconsin, plus the District of Columbia.
Ten more states could soon legalize it, after federal appeals courts issued binding mandates in recent months: Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, North Carolina, Nevada, Montana, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.