Published Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 | 9:08 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 | 4:55 p.m.
Confusion and uncertainty over gay marriage spread Wednesday as couples in Las Vegas wondered whether they'd be allowed to wed, and partners in Idaho dealt with disappointment after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling blocked them moments before they would have picked up marriage licenses.
Officials and judges in a handful of other states weighed in, meanwhile, in the latest flurry of legal wrangling over an issue that has sparked a series of rulings this week that have left couples in limbo.
"I think I have whiplash," said Mary Baranovich who was a plaintiff in the Nevada case with Beverly Sevcik, her partner of 43 years.
In the city that bills itself as the marriage capital of the world, wedding chapels and city officials prepared for a wave of gay couples after a morning of back and forth rulings that stemmed from the Supreme Court decision Monday that effectively made gay marriage legal in about 30 states.
The ruling did not, however, decide the matter for the rest of the nation, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles much of the Western U.S., issued a decision Tuesday that appeared to overturn gay marriage bans in cases from Nevada and Idaho, clearing the way for same-sex unions in those states.
Hopeful couples crowded courthouses in Idaho, and Las Vegas chapels had photographers get ready to capture two brides in white dresses while ordained Elvis impersonators practiced their lines.
But before couples were able to make their unions official, Justice Anthony Kennedy issued a ruling that seemed to block gay marriage in both states with a temporary delay.
The news was delivered at 8:01 a.m. to a small crowd of gay couples and their supporters gathered in a Boise courthouse when Ada County Clerk Chris Rich handed the Supreme Court memo to a lawyer and said, "We're not issuing same-sex marriage licenses today."
The announcement left the room in stunned silence, except for a small child asking over and over, "Why?"
"We were past the metal detectors, we were just a few feet away from the clerk," said Amber Beierle. "And then our attorney was handed a one-page document. Apparently, it was Justice Kennedy telling us, No."
It initially appeared that the ruling would apply to Nevada as well, but hours later a new memo from the Supreme Court clarified the decision, saying it applied only to Idaho because officials there challenged the 9th Circuit's decision but those in Nevada did not.
The clarification prompted gay couples to begin trickling in to the city's Marriage License Bureau on Wednesday.
In other states, officials and judges made a patchwork of decisions.
A judge in northeast Kansas, a state affected by the Supreme Court ruling Monday that kicked off the latest flurry of activity on the issue, ordered a county to issue same-sex marriage licenses and said the ruling was meant to clear up confusion. The attorney general in South Carolina asked the state Supreme Court to stop a judge from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A federal judge in North Carolina has lifted temporary delays in two cases challenging the state's same-sex marriage ban. And the governor of Wyoming, Matt Mead, said the state would continue to defend its law defining marriage as only between one man and one woman.
Nevada, meanwhile, remained in abeyance, as a group fighting to uphold the state's gay marriage ban filed a request for Kennedy to reinstate the temporary block.
Clark County Clerk Diana Alba, who oversees Las Vegas, said at a late afternoon news conference that she would not issue any gay marriage licenses for the time being.
"I wish I knew a date," she said.
Alba said the couples who waited in line today have been given placeholders so they may bypass others if and when gay marriage is legalized once more.
"They waited patiently," Alba said. "It's the least we could do for them."
She said her employees were prepared to handle 300 to 400 marriage applications today and called the series of court decisions "a real roller coaster" for the county's same-sex couples.
Alba said the office has staff on standby should employees need to handle a sudden burst of marriage registrations. Employees have already created gay marriage application forms.
"We will not drag our feet," she said, noting that her staffers only need "a couple of hours" to prepare.
Pierceall reported from Las Vegas. Associated Press reporters Ken Ritter and Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas, Rebecca Boone in Boise and Paul Elias in San Francisco contributed to this report. Sun reporter Ana Ley contributed to this report.