Gay marriage advocates won another two victories on Wednesday as the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Kansas to become the 33rd U.S. state where same-sex couples can wed and a federal judge struck down South Carolina's ban.
The high court declined a request from Kansas officials to block U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree's Nov. 4 ruling that struck down the state's gay marriage ban as a violation of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.
Two of the nine justices, conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said in the brief court order they would have granted the stay.
In Charleston, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled that South Carolina is bound by an earlier regional federal appeals court decision that struck down Virginia's similar law. Gergel said his decision will not take effect for one week to allow South Carolina time to appeal.
That could allow same-sex couples to file for marriage licenses or in some cases begin receiving them starting on Nov. 20 if the state is unable to obtain a further delay via the courts.
"We're ecstatic," said Colleen Condon, 44, who filed the lawsuit heard by Gergel after she and fiancée Nichols Bleckley, 43, were denied a marriage license in Charleston last month.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, said he would appeal Wednesday's ruling.
"We believe this office has an obligation to defend state law as long as we have a viable path to do so," Wilson said.
Wednesday's court actions follow other decisions last week rejecting bans in Missouri and West Virginia. The rulings are the latest in a series across the nation in which federal district courts have thrown out bans.
Although gay marriage advocates have had the upper hand in the legal battle over the past year, the landscape changed last week when a Cincinnati-based regional federal appeals court became the first to uphold gay marriage bans.
That decision by the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals backing bans in four states created a split within the courts and increased the chances the Supreme Court will rule once and for all on whether states have the right to ban gay marriage.
The high court has so far declined to take up any cases that would lead to a definitive ruling on gay marriage. In October, it allowed gay marriage to proceed in five states when it refused to hear appeals in seven cases.
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod and Lawrence Hurley; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Will Dunham)