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First gay marriage licenses issued in South Carolina

In this Oct. 15, 2014 file photo, Colleen Condon, left, and her partner Nichols Bleckley appear at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., shortly after filing a federal lawsuit seeking the right to marry in South Carolina. On Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, a probate judge began issuing same-sex marriage licenses in Charleston and the couple were among the first six couples to pick up their license. [Associated Press]
In this Oct. 15, 2014 file photo, Colleen Condon, left, and her partner Nichols Bleckley appear at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., shortly after filing a federal lawsuit seeking the right to marry in South Carolina. On Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, a probate judge began issuing same-sex marriage licenses in Charleston and the couple were among the first six couples to pick up their license. [Associated Press]
Published Nov. 20, 2014

CHARLESTON, S.C. — A judge issued the first gay marriage licenses and a couple was married in South Carolina on Wednesday, even as the state attorney general asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and block the unions.

Judge Irvin Condon's office issued six licenses in the first 90 minutes the Charleston County Probate Court office was open and one of the couples, Kristin Anderson and Kayla Bennett, exchanged vows outside the office.

"We want to get in before they change their minds and pull the rug out again," Anderson told local media outlets, referring to the ongoing legal battles over gay marriage.

Before Wednesday, same-sex couples could marry in 32 states, parts of Kansas and Missouri, and the District of Columbia. Also Wednesday, a federal judge in Montana ruled the state's ban was unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled Montana's constitutional amendment limiting marriage to between a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The clerk of district court in Montana's most populous county, Yellowstone, said she expects her office to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples this morning.

In South Carolina, another marriage license went to Colleen Condon and her partner, Nichols Bleckley, who sued the state. Ruling in that case, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel last week threw out the same-sex marriage ban in the South Carolina Constitution.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to put Gergel's order on hold Tuesday. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson then asked Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court to block such marriages while the state appeals, Wilson's spokesman Mark Powell said. The Supreme Court did not immediately rule on the request.

Attorney John Nichols, representing the probate judge, said the licenses could be issued because of a Tuesday decision in another federal case.

There, U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs in Columbia ruled in favor of two women who sued to have the state to recognize their marriage performed in Washington, D.C. Childs ruled the state's failure to recognize their marriage was unconstitutional.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a 4th Circuit decision allowing same-sex marriage in Virginia, opening the way for same-sex marriages in other states. South Carolina continued to defend its ban and was the only state in the circuit not permitting them.

At that time, probate judges in two South Carolina counties began accepting applications for same-sex marriage licenses. The state Supreme Court quickly ordered that no licenses be issued before a decision in the Columbia case.

The state's high court lifted its stay Wednesday, and said Childs' decision resolved the case.

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