SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Legal momentum for extending U.S. marriage rights to same-sex couples accelerated on Tuesday as a federal appeals court 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 cannot be enforced, adding to a growing list of states where same-sex unions are now legal.
“Idaho and Nevada’s marriage laws, by preventing same-sex couples from marrying and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages celebrated elsewhere, impose profound legal, financial, social and psychic harms on numerous citizens of those states,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote.
Rulings for the 9th Circuit are binding on all states in the court’s region including three others that do not permit gay marriage, Arizona, Montana and Alaska, putting the United States on track for legalized gay marriage in 35 states.
In Idaho, Ty Carson and her lesbian partner of 16 years, Becky McGavin, were among the gay couples who plan to rush to the county courthouse in Boise to receive licenses.
“This is beyond my wildest dreams. I’m trying to get hold of Becky so we can get married as soon as possible,” Carson said.
Chelsea Carattini, an assistant to the Ada County District Court Clerk in Boise, said her office was awaiting formal direction before issuing licenses. In Nevada, a Clark County official said the state attorney general’s office still needed to review the ruling.
But Clark County Clerk Diana Alba said her office has been preparing for weeks, including changing the applications for marriage licenses so they use gender-neutral pronouns, employing “party one” and “party two” instead of “bride” and “groom.”
“When we get the green light, we’re ready,” Alba said.
Gay marriage advocates say the U.S. Supreme Court sent a clear message on Monday by letting stand court rulings allowing gay marriage for five states. The response in those states has been immediate.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago issued orders on Tuesday 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.
In Colorado, the Republican attorney general told county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples after that state’s 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 along with her partner, Catherine Greenwald on Tuesday at the county clerk’s office in Boulder, Colorado.
Marriage equality advocates in Florida asked a federal judge to lift a stay on a court ruling that struck down that state’s gay marriage ban, while three gay couples in South Carolina say they plan to apply for licenses on Wednesday and will sue the state if they are denied.
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, urged state Attorney General Pam Bondi to heed 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, and said the matter will be decided by the courts.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is due to rule at any time in cases involving four more states that still ban gay marriage.
Appeals in similar cases that saw district court judges strike down gay marriage bans in Texas and Louisiana are pending before the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“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.
But South Carolina officials also stood their ground. “Until the courts rule on the matter, (we) will seek to uphold our state constitution,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said on Tuesday.
Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington, Harriet McLeod in South Carolina, Keith Coffman in Boulder, Zachary Fagenson in Miami, Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idao, and Alexia Shurmur in Las Vegas; Writing by David Adams, Steve Gorman and Daniel Wallis; Editing by Jim Loney and Sandra Maler