Federal appeals court refuses to issue stay on marriage equality in South Carolina
Cheryl Taylor and Jennifer Smith hold hands as they arrive for the Grand Pride Wedding, a mass gay wedding at Casa Loma in Toronto, Canada, on June 26, 2014 [AFP]

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined on Tuesday to stay a District Court ruling from last week that struck down the gay marriage ban in South Carolina, meaning same-sex weddings could happen there as soon as Thursday.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, said in a statement his office would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the District court’s ruling.

"This issue has not yet been resolved nationally," he said in a statement.

“Today's ruling by the Fourth Circuit does not end the constitutional obligation of this Office to defend South Carolina law,” Wilson said.

South Carolina would become the 34th state to allow gay marriage if it is allowed to go ahead.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a similar stay application last week that was filed by Kansas officials. Like South Carolina, Kansas was bound by a regional appeals court ruling that struck down bans in other states.

Although gay marriage advocates have had the advantage in the courts over the past year, a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court on Nov. 6 became the first to uphold gay marriage bans.

That decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backing four states' bans created a split within the courts, increasing the chances the Supreme Court will rule once and for all on whether states can ban gay marriage.

The high court has so far declined to take up cases that would lead to a definitive ruling on gay marriage, allowing gay marriage to proceed in five states when it refused to hear appeals in seven cases in October.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod, Lawrence Hurley and Jonathan Kaminsky; Writing by David Adams; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)