Legal momentum for extending U.S. marriage rights to same-sex couples accelerated on Tuesday as a federal appeals court in San Francisco struck down bans on gay matrimony in Idaho and Nevada a day after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand similar rulings for five other states.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled the bans in Idaho and Nevada violated the constitution and said they cannot be enforced, adding to a mounting list of states where same-sex unions are now legal.
The ruling binds all states in the court's region including three that do not permit gay marriage, Arizona, Montana and Alaska, putting the United States on track for legalized gay marriage in 35 states.
Legal pressure mounted for further expansion of marriage rights in the wake of Monday's Supreme Court decision that ended bans in five states but left intact 20 others.
The response in the five states directly affected by Monday's ruling has been immediate. On Tuesday morning, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago issued orders that put into effect an earlier ruling that struck down bans in Wisconsin and Indiana. Gay marriages have already gone ahead in Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma.
Marriage equality advocates in Florida also filed a motion asking a federal judge on Tuesday to lift a stay and allow same-sex marriages to go ahead. Three same-sex couples in South Carolina say they plan to apply for licenses on Wednesday and if denied will file lawsuits against the state.
The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is due to rule at any time in cases involving four states that currently ban gay marriage. Separately, appeals in cases in which district court judges struck down bans in Texas and Louisiana are pending before the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Gay marriage advocates say the Supreme Court sent a clear message by allowing bans to be struck down. "It just became a lot harder for any court to uphold a marriage ban," said Camilla Taylor, a lawyer for the gay rights group Lambda Legal.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to rule on whether states can ban gay marriage, but rejected appeals to uphold the ban in the five states.
As a result, the high court left intact lower-court rulings striking down those bans, raising the number of states permitting gay marriage from 19 to 24.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an order on Tuesday directing state authorities to comply with the Supreme Court decision.
Colorado’s attorney general also told county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples after the state Supreme Court lifted stays in two related cases.
"It feels good to be recognized for things that everyone else takes for granted," said Carolanne Fisher, who received her license on Tuesday at the county clerk’s office in Boulder, Colorado.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a motion on Tuesday asking U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle to lift a stay he imposed in August on his own ruling that struck down Florida's gay marriage ban. In his ruling Hinkle cited pending cases in other states before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Howard Simon, the executive director of the ACLU of Florida, urged state Attorney General Pam Bondi to take heed of the high court decision.
"Any further attempt to prevent historical and legal change is fruitless," he said.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said Bondi had a "duty" to defend the ban, which was added to the state constitution by voters in 2008.
"This is a matter that will be decided by the courts," he said.
In South Carolina officials also stood their ground. "Until the courts rule on the matter, South Carolina will seek to uphold our state constitution,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said on Tuesday in a statement.
(Reporting by Dan Levine and Kristina Cooke; Additonal reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington, Harriet McLeod in South Carolina, Keith Coffman in Boulder and Zachary Fagenson in Miami; Writing by David Adams and Steve Gorman; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jim Loney)