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Fourth Circuit rejects attempt to delay same-sex marriage in South Carolina

The Lewis F. Powell Jr. Courthouse in Richmond, Va., is home to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. BRUCE SMITH [ap]

The Lewis F. Powell Jr. Courthouse in Richmond, Va., is home to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The Lewis F. Powell Jr. Courthouse in Richmond, Va., is home to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

RICHMOND, Va. — A federal appeals court on Tuesday cleared the way for same-sex couples to be married in South Carolina beginning this week – at least for now.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, denied the state’s request to block the marriages while state officials appeal a lower court’s ruling overturning South Carolina’s ban on gay marriage.

In response, the state late Tuesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and prevent same-sex marriages from taking place.

State Attorney General Alan Wilson argued that allowing people to get married would cause the state irreparable harm because it would cause legal confusion about the status of those who marry if the state were to win its original appeal.

Wilson said in a statement earlier Tuesday that the appeals panel’s ruling “does not end the constitutional obligation of this office to defend South Carolina law.”

Attorneys for the gay couple who filed the lawsuit that led to the ban being overturned responded that the only people being hurt were those who were prevented from getting married.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, ruling last week on a suit brought in Charleston by Colleen Condon and Nichols Bleckley, tossed out the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and ordered officials to stop enforcing it. He also ordered that same-sex marriages could begin at noon on Thursday unless a higher court intervenes. He gave the state until noon Thursday to appeal.

Condon and Bleckley applied for their license after the U.S. Supreme Court last month refused to hear an appeal of a 4th Circuit decision allowing same-sex marriage in Virginia. That cleared the way for marriages in other states in the circuit, and probate judges in two South Carolina counties began accepting license applications.

But the state has a 24-hour waiting period and the state Supreme Court ordered probate judges not to issue licenses while the matter of the state’s same-sex marriage ban was being decided in federal court.

In its order Tuesday, the appeals court did not comment on Wilson’s appeal of Gergel’s ruling.

Wilson has argued a decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upholding gay marriage bans in several other states means that ultimately the matter will go before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This issue has not yet been resolved nationally,” he said. “It is still likely the U.S. Supreme Court will address conflicting rulings between federal circuit courts of appeal.”

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