Huge news out of D.C. yesterday. The Supreme Court announced that it would not hear any of the cases in which the federal appeals courts upheld same-sex constitutional rights to marry.
In the year that I’ve been writing about these cases, we’ve seen great steps towards true marriage equality, and this news was a giant leap.
The Internet is abuzz with what this decision means for the future of marriage equality. But before you extrapolate on the future, here are five things you need to know about the decision itself.
- The Court Denied Hearing Seven Cases, from Five Different States: The Supreme Court denied review of all seven cases pending before it. The lower court rulings covered five different states: Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. That means the district courts’ opinions striking down the bans should go into effect immediately. (Virginia began issuing licenses on Monday.)
- The Decision Also Affects Six Other States: Because of the structure of federal courts, the same-sex marriages bans in any state in these circuits would be held unconstitutional as well. (The circuit courts would be following their own precedent.) These additional states include West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina (covered by the 4th Circuit), as well as Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming (covered by the 10th Circuit) However, it may take a little more time for marriages to begin in these states because of the need for a district court to actually strike the bans. This process is already in the works.
- Same–Sex Marriage Will be Legal in the Majority of States: Because of the 11 new states that now or will soon recognize gay marriage, same-sex couples will be able to marry in 30 states, as well as D.C. That means nearly two-thirds of same-sex couples in the United States will soon live in states where they can marry, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.
- Lawsuits in Other Districts still Pending: Even with 30 states having marriage equality, 20 states will still have bans on the books. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, covering the far West and Northwest, and the 6th Circuit, covering parts of the Midwest, have already heard arguments in same-sex-marriage cases. The 5th Circuit will hear an appeal soon from a district court ruling that struck down the Texas ban. And the 11th Circuit finds itself in a similar position regarding district court decisions that struck down Florida’s ban.
- As Long as the Circuit Courts Agree, the Supreme Court Likely Won’t Hear a Case: The two ways to get to the Supreme Court are: (1) A novel federal question; or (2) A split in authority that needs to be resolved among the circuits. At this moment in time, neither of those exists since the court as already addressed the issue on the Federal level in Windsor, and all of the lower circuit courts agree at this point. An interesting tidbit: the Supreme Court took its time in making a decision on interracial marriages as well. It waited to decide the issue until 34 states agreed the bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional.
What an exciting time! It still amazes me that we get to see all of this unfolding and get to benefit from it.
At this point last year, whether I would ever get married was still a question. Now I’m a married man and soon many of my friends in other states will have the opportunity to do the same!