(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court cleared same-sex weddings to start in Florida next month, potentially increasing the number of gay-marriage states to 36 as the justices consider whether to rule on the issue nationwide.
The justices today said they will let a federal trial judge’s decision backing marriage rights take effect. Florida’s Republican attorney general, Pamela Jo Bondi, asked the court to block the ruling, which declared the state’s ban unconstitutional.
The court gave no explanation, issuing a one-sentence order. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
The reach of the Aug. 21 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle is a matter of dispute. Although gay-rights advocates say the decision applies statewide, some opponents say it affects only a single county in Florida’s Panhandle. Hinkle’s decision takes effect Jan. 5.
The Supreme Court may say in January whether it will take up any of the five pending appeals that ask the court to decide whether the Constitution guarantees gay-marriage rights. With lower courts divided on the issue, advocates on both sides are seeking high court review.
Three federal appeals courts have backed marriage rights. In November, a Cincinnati-based appeals court became the first to rule against gay marriage, increasing the pressure on the Supreme Court to intervene. The high court surprised observers in early October when it rejected calls from advocates on both sides to take up the issue.
In the meantime, the justices have cleared weddings to go forward in much of the country, letting pro-marriage rulings take effect.
Twenty-one people challenged Florida’s gay-marriage ban in two lawsuits. Hinkle said the law was unconstitutional, though he delayed the effective date of his ruling for almost six months. The 11th Circuit later refused to extend the delay.
The case is Secretary, Florida Department of Health v. Brenner, 14A650.
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