Supreme Court allows marriage equality to proceed in Florida starting in January
Gay couple holding hands, wearing a wedding ring (Shutterstock)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday declined to extend a stay sought by Florida officials defending the state's ban on same-sex marriages, allowing gay marriages to proceed in Florida next month.

Weddings would be allowed to start on Jan. 6 under an order by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta earlier this month.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented from the Supreme Court's decision.

The high court's order would make gay marriage legal in 36 U.S. states, including Florida.

In the past year, gay marriage advocates have largely prevailed in court rulings but a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court in November became the first to uphold gay marriage bans.

That decision, by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has been appealed to the high court, which is likely to announce in January whether it will hear it and decide on a nationwide basis whether the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Chris Reese, Dan Whitcomb and Bill Trott)