The Supreme Court put a hold on same-sex marriage in Virginia Wednesday afternoon, just hours before many couples planned to wed.
Just after 3 p.m. Wednesday, the nation's highest court granted a request from a county clerk in Northern Virginia to delay the decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry beginning Thursday morning.
Virginia would have also had to start recognizing gay marriages from out of state if the Supreme Court had denied the request.
Alexandria couple Jim Scheye and Justin Smith have been together for 15 years, and had planned to marry at Alexandria City Hall Thursday morning, with the city's mayor as their officiant and out-of-town family members at their sides.
Supreme Court Halts Gay Marriage in Virginia
Those plans were put on hold, and though they could easily drive to D.C. or Maryland to marry, they want their marriage to be recognized in the Commonwealth.
"Driving across the bridge, going across the river... other people don't have to do that. Why can't I get married where my home town is?" Scheye said. "We have faith one day that our marriage will be recognized in all 50 states."
"To me, it's important to be symbolic. To say, 'This is who I am. This is where we live, we're a part of you and we're a part of the community,'" Smith said.
Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe, who was supportive of same sex marriage in the state, issued a statement Wednesday in response to the Supreme Court's decision.
"Today's decision is a temporary delay to the inevitable conclusion that Virginians who love each other should have the opportunity to marry regardless of their sexual orientation," McAuliffe said. "Building a new Virginia economy means creating an environment that is open and welcoming to all."
The Supreme Court provided no explanation for its order, but its decision was not unexpected. It had previously issued an order in January putting same-sex unions on hold in Utah. A federal appeals court had upheld a decision striking down Utah's ban. Most other federal court decisions in favor of same-sex marriage also have been put on hold.
Supreme Court Halts Gay Marriage in Virginia
"It's time for the Supreme Court to resolve this issue once and for all, so our gay and lesbian citizens don't have to live with this kind of uncertainty," said Matthew McGill an attorney on the legal team supporting same-sex marriage.
By granting the delay, the Supreme Court is making clear that it "believes a dignified process is better than disorder," said Byron Babione, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona, that supported the challenge by the two Virginia circuit court clerks whose duties include issuing marriage licenses.
"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," Babione said in a statement.
Supporters of same-sex marriage were disappointed, saying gay and lesbian couples have waited long enough to marry.
"Loving couples -- and families -- should not have to endure yet another standstill before their commitment to one another is recognized here in Virginia," said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, in a statement.
Brian Reach, President of NOVA Pride, an LGBT organization in Virginia, said that the decision would be "frustrating" for couples who planned to marry, but that it would not make them any less committed to doing so.
Va. Courthouses Prep for Crowds
News4's Chris Gordon spoke to Claudia Elias, an Alexandria woman who married her partner in D.C. last year.
"My wife and I are raising three children in the state of Virginia," Elias said. "God forbid if something were to happen to me, she needs to have the same rights as anybody else to be able to provide for them."
Whalen is the organizer in the Hampton Roads region for People of Faith for Equality, which had commitments from 49 clergy members from various faiths to be stationed at different courthouses around the commonwealth. Another 17 clergy members had offered to be on call if they were needed, including the Rev. Linda Olson Peebles of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington.
Peebles said most same-sex couples in her congregation have already gotten married in Maryland or Washington, D.C., where she has also performed wedding ceremonies. She said her 900-member congregation planned to have a celebration Wednesday night if the stay was not issued.
"It's been a long journey,'' she'd said. "We're letting everybody know we're going to be ready to join in Virginia moving forward, letting go of its sad history and moving forward.''
Earlier this year, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimated that between 5,487 and 7,122 same-sex Virginia couples would get married within three years of a change in law. That was based on 2010 Census figures showing Virginia had 14,243 gay and lesbian couples and past experiences with Massachusetts after gay marriage was legalized there.