RICHMOND, Va. -- The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted a motion requested by the Clerk of Prince William County to keep same-sex marriages from happening in Virginia until the higher court reviews the case.
Virginia officials were going to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning Thursday, August 21. This is not the first time the Supreme Court has placed a lower court ruling on hold.
“It is disappointing that the Supreme Court stayed the 4th Circuit Court’s decision,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.“Lesbian and gay Virginians have waited long enough for the freedom to marry."
"Every day that this ruling is stayed, more lesbian and gay Virginians will suffer undue harm as they wait to insure their spouses, wait to adopt the children they are raising, and wait to have their relationships affirmed by the Commonwealth," Parrish added.
Lawyers defending the Prince William Clerk Michelle B. McQuigg believe said they believe the Supreme Court acted wisely in restraining the lower court from implementing a ruling of this magnitude before the high court has a chance to decide the issue.
“Virginians deserve an orderly and fair resolution to the question of whether they will remain free to preserve marriage as the union of a man and a woman in their laws," said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel, Byron Babione. "By granting our request to place a hold on the 4th Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court is making clear, as it already did in the Utah marriage case, that it believes a dignified process is better than disorder."
Impact of the Stay
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. handles emergency requests from the 4th Circuit, which covers South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland -- the only state that currently allows same-sex marriage.
CBS 6 talked to Suzanne Weaver and Melissa Powell Wednesday night. The two married in D.C. back in 2011, but are now pushing for same-sex marriage in Virginia. However, their reason is different from many others.
Melissa was diagnosed with breast cancer last year but because her wife works for the State, Melissa said she can't be placed on her insurance.
"That limited my access to resources and it also increased tremendous deductibles," she said.
Still, the two said they are still staying hopeful.
"If you read the Constitution, it's very clear," said Weaver. "I don't see any way that it could go another way but we're cautiously optimistic and we're just trying to be patient."
Bishop Gerald Glenn of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church said he was relieved by Wednesday's ruling.
"It's from a bible basis, I'm a Christian minister and I believe one man and one woman for one lifetime in marriage," said Glenn.
As a Christian minister, he said he could never conduct a same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court meets in September to begin considering cases. The high court in coming weeks or months will announce whether it will have the final word, and accept pending petitions from one or more various states, including Virginia, to review their bans on same-sex marriage.
A binding ruling from the justices on the constitutional issues would be one of the most contentious and closely watched from the Supreme Court in recent years, and could apply to all 31 current states that forbid same-sex marriage.
USA Today reports that if the court declines to hear the Virginia appeal, the stay would be lifted and immediately couples could be married, and already married couples' marriages recognized.
Wednesday's decision came later than most expected, so circuit courts around Virginia were preparing for an onslaught of marriage license applications. Richmond Circuit Court Clerk Edward Jewett said they had planned for extra staffing if the stay had not been issued.
Same-sex marriage is legal in 19 U.S states plus the District of Columbia: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington state.