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Same-sex marriage nears thirty-five-state total

Rulings on Wednesday by the South Carolina Supreme Court and by a federal judge in Montana moved the campaign to allow same-sex marriage closer to a total of thirty-five states — but the Supreme Court has not yet cleared the way.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Supreme Court was still considering a request by state officials in South Carolina to delay same-sex marriages in that state, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had refused a postponement.  If the Justices do not act by noon Thursday, such marriages could begin in the state, because the state supreme court on Wednesday lifted an earlier delay order that had applied throughout the state.  Two federal judges in that state have ruled against the ban.

In Montana, U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris of Great Falls struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, finding that it violated the Constitution’s guarantee of legal equality.  He put his order into effect immediately, noting that it would make Montana the thirty-fourth state in that category.  State officials still have the option of appealing and of seeking a delay in higher courts.

South Carolina and Montana are the only two states that had not yet permitted same-sex marriages in the federal circuits where they are located and where the federal appeals court has struck down other states’ marriage bans.  South Carolina is in the Fourth Circuit, Montana in the Ninth Circuit.

Just about seven weeks ago, at the start of October, there were nineteen states, plus Washington, D.C., where same-sex couples could legally marry.  That number has since grown to at least thirty-three, and, apparently soon, to thirty-five.

So far, only one federal appeals court involved in the recent round of decisions has upheld such bans — the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  Thus, same-sex marriages remain banned in the four states in that region.

Lawsuits are going forward testing the bans in eleven other states and in Puerto Rico.  Some of those cases are in federal courts, either at the trial or appeals level, and some are in state courts.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Same-sex marriage nears thirty-five-state total, SCOTUSblog (Nov. 19, 2014, 5:19 PM),