WASHINGTON — After two days of waiting, same-sex couples will begin marrying in Las Vegas on Thursday night.
U.S. District Court Judge James C. Mahan issued an injunction stopping Nevada officials from enforcing the state's ban on same-sex couples' marriages late Thursday afternoon, ending a whirlwind 48 hours for the state.
"This action brings finality to the issue of same sex marriage in Nevada," Governor Brian Sandoval said in a statement following the issuance of the injunction.
On Tuesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Nevada's ban on same-sex couples' marriages, as well as a similar ban in Idaho, and issued its mandate — which should have sent the ruling into effect.
Over the next 48 hours, though, three elements caused confusion and delay for the couples — and the district court injunction barring enforcement of the state's ban was not entered onto the court's docket until about 5 p.m. PT Thursday.
Officials with the clerk's office in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, had said they would not be able to issue licenses until the injunction was issued. Shortly before the injunction was issued, at least one clerk — in Carson City — was planning to move forward even without an injunction, basing their authority on the 9th Circuit ruling and mandate.
The first confusion came when, early Wednesday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Jones recused himself from the case — giving no reason for the unusual move that followed his having overseen the original consideration of the lawsuit in 2012 that ended with his upholding the ban.
Then, soon thereafter on Wednesday morning, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy issued a stay of the mandate in the Idaho marriage case — but he included the case number from the Nevada case in the order, putting Nevada marriages on hold.
When Kennedy, a few hours later, issued a second order ending the Nevada stay — which had, the court acknowledged on Thursday, been "erroneously" included in the initial order — there was still no judge to enter the final injunction in the trial court because of Jones' recusal.
During all of this, the third complication came into play: The Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, which had backed the Nevada marriage ban, asked the 9th Circuit and then the Supreme Court to stay the 9th Circuit mandate in order to give it time to appeal the 9th Circuit's ruling.
Following an inquiry to the district court from BuzzFeed News, a new judge was assigned to the case — U.S. District Court Judge James C. Mahan — but he, presumably, had to spend at least a little time getting up to speed on the case before signing off on the injunction.
On Thursday, the coalition unexpectedly withdrew its requests to both courts — potentially because it faced a significantly uphill battle in advancing its claims since the Supreme Court had dismissed the appeal of an initiative's proponent in the California Proposition 8 case.
Following that move, the 9th Circuit issued another order noting that its mandate — from Tuesday — remained in effect as to the Nevada case. There was still no injunction, however, but the legal director at Lambda Legal — which had represented the same-sex couples suing Nevada — said an injunction was not needed to enable clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
For some — like the Clark County clerk's office — though, they waited for the injunction.
Finally, about 5 p.m. PT, the injunction came.
"Based on this most recent action from the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada there are no remaining legal requirements that prevent Nevada county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples," Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said in a statement.
With same-sex couples already lined up waiting to wed and the marriage bureau open until midnight, it was a new day in Vegas.