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Group fighting same-sex marriage in Nevada has dropped its appeals

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Stone
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UPDATE 11:40 AM Thursday

Gay couples could finally be within hours of the right to marry in Nevada.

The Coalition for the Protection of Marriage has dropped its appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit, which temporarily prevented same sex marriages from going forward on Wednesday. Now, there is no opposition in court to dropping the state's ban.

The lawyer for the coalition declined to say why the group dropped its appeals. Shortly after, the 9th Circuit reaffirmed its mandate to allow same sex marriage, saying it remains in "full force and effect."

Now, the final step is for a federal judge in Las Vegas to issue an injunction striking down a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2002. At that point, the Washoe County District Attorney will need to give permission to the county clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. 

The status of the ban has been in limbo since the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday that gay couples' equal protection rights were violated by same-sex wedding bans in Nevada and Idaho.

 

UPDATE 4:10 PM Wednesday:

In another twist, gay marriage is again on hold in Nevada.

 

For much of the day, the status of the state’s gay marriage ban was up in the air. It started when Idaho requested an emergency stay, and, in response, the Supreme Court put gay marriage on hold in both states. Within hours, Justice Anthony Kennedy clarified the stay only applies to Idaho, not Nevada. Then, shortly after, news came that the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage had asked for an emergency injunction in the Nevada case, as well. The group would like the 9th Circuit to recall its mandate. 

The court is now giving all the parties in the Nevada case, including the state, till 5 pm Thursday to respond to the motion to recall the mandate. A representative for the 9th Circuit says, because of the timing, it's unlikely the court will take action on that until Friday. 

As this was going on, the district judge in Reno, who had originally upheld the state's ban (before it was appealed), recused himself from the case. It has now been reassigned to another district judge. In the event that the 9th Circuit does not recall its original mandate, that district judge will be the one who takes the final step: issuing an injunction that prevents the state from enforcing its ban.

As it stands right now, same sex marriage cannot go forward in Nevada. 

UPDATE 12:30 Wednesday:

Last night, before this unexpected hitch, local supporters of same sex marriage took to downtown Reno to celebrate. They had been on this street corner before, like, last year, when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). But this time they're celebrating the weddings to come right here in Reno. Listen to Will Stone's full story on local reaction here. 

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"The 9th Circuit's decision will make a lasting impact on so many couples in our great state and for future generations to come. Our struggle for the equal right to marry the person that we love has finally been vindicated."

That's Jeromy Manke, who's the head of the Nevada non-profit Build Our Center. The state's ban drove Menke and his husband to get married in California earlier this year, even though he's been a lifelong resident of Reno. They're looking forward to having their marriage now recognized here, as well.

A couple not yet married is Karen Vibe and Karen Goody. They're one of the eight Nevada couples behind this lawsuit, which advocacy group Lambda Legal brought on their behalf in 2012.

Goody says as the list of states allowing gay marriage grew, so did their hope that Nevada would soon be among them.

"We were cautiously optimistic, but the expectation is nothing like the reality. Just having this happen today, I can't even tell you. I get emotional because it's such a wonderful feeling to see that it actually came to fruition the way it did."

Vibe says they were determined to be married in their home state and community, and now they've already started planning the wedding.

"We are getting married November 15th. We decided. We set the date today. We're moving forward. It's just going to be this five week shot, sprint, run to our wedding day."

Vibe says the ruling is made all the more meaningful by its timing.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from five states trying to maintain bans on same sex marriage. Now with Nevada and Idaho, the number of states where gay marriage is effectively legal is 32. The 9th Circuit's ruling also clears the way for gay marriage in the 3 other Western states in the court's jurisdiction: Alaska, Montana and Arizona.

While many same sex couples are eager to get married right away, that's not yet possible for those in Washoe County.

Tara Borelli, the attorney who argued on behalf of Nevada's same sex couples, says the lower court must first issue an injunction that prevents the state from enforcing its ban. But:

"There's no room for doubt about what the court's opinion requires. It requires access to marriage equality. And we hope that government officials will allow that to happen as soon as possible."

In Idaho, the lower court jumped right on it and couples can begin getting married this week. Clark County has said it will do the same.

Governor Brian Sandoval, who earlier this year decided not to continue defending the ban, says he respects the court's decision and will not seek reconsideration or a stay. Opponents of gay marriage are calling the ruling a "tragedy" and are upset the court has gone against the decision of voters to pass a constitutional amendment as recently as 2002.

Technically, the parties in Nevada's case have 2 weeks to ask for reconsideration or appeal to the Supreme Court.

For its part, the 9th Circuit made its stance clear, calling the argument of the group that sought to preserve the ban "crass" and writing, "when same sex couples are married, just as when other couple are married, they serve as models of loving commitment to all."

In fact, attorney Tara Borelli says the three judge panel found that the ban was unconstitutional in several ways.

"One judge argeed not only that Nevada's marriage ban violates equal protection rights, but also the fundamental right to marry. And Judge Berzon issued an opinion saying this is also sexual discrimination."

The Washoe County Clerk says her office will not issue certificates yet, but they've already printed gender-neutral license applications. The attorney general has advised each county clerk to work with its local district attorney on timing.

But at the rally, or, rather the celebration, the timeline did not seem to be a big concern. It's happening, says Karen Vibe.

"It's not about a religion or a judgment. It's about pursuing your own happiness and whatever that means for every American. And for us, this is our happiness. And we have every right, the same as everyone else, to be married."

And now they have a wedding to plan.

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.