In a sign of changing times, same-sex couples received marriage licenses this week in Little Rock, Ark. Pending court cases are challenging laws and constitutional amendments in many states.
A federal magistrate judge ruled Tuesday that Idaho must begin issuing same-sex licenses Friday. Two days later, a federal appeals court granted the state a temporary stay while it decides whether to stay the decision pending appeal.
"As hard and as heart-wrenching as this 'temporary stay' is for all those people who were planning to finally get married tomorrow, this may be the best thing that the court could have done," Sue Latta, the lead plaintiff, told The Spokesman-Review.
"If they had had a knee-jerk reaction, we probably would have gotten a 'stay pending appeal,' which will take many months, but they didn't do that. They are going to take a hard look at all the new case law that has been generated ... and whether it seems like the state will ultimately be successful, and I believe that they are going to deny the stay."
On May 17, 2004, when the first same-sex couples got licenses in Massachusetts, they could marry legally in only two countries, the Netherlands and Belgium. Many states responded to the Massachusetts ruling by passing constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
President George W. Bush made same-sex marriage a campaign issue in 2004, pushing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Last year, however, same-sex marriage advocates got a powerful boost when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, enacted under President Bill Clinton.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 18 states, the District of Columbia and eight Indian tribal jurisdictions. Voters in a number of states approved the change by referendum.
In Ohio, a federal judge ordered the state to recognize marriages contracted legally, although the ruling is now stayed. In Arkansas, a state judge who was asked to stay his ruling that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional responded this week by throwing out all state laws and regulations that ban the practice or prevent county clerks from issuing marriage licenses.
Polls show that nationally a majority of adults support allowing same-sex couples to wed, with younger people more likely to do so.