Court watchers and legal experts didn’t expect this — the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up the hotly contested issue of same-sex marriage, a surprise move that will now allow gays and lesbians to marry in five states where same-sex unions were previously banned.
CNBC reports that, by rejecting appeals in cases involving Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana, the justices left intact lower-court rulings that struck down same-sex marriage bans in those states.
But the impact of the court’s refusal to take up the issue will be felt far beyond that handful of states.
Other states under the jurisdiction of appeals courts that struck down the bans will also be affected, meaning the number of states with gay marriage is likely to quickly jump from 19 to 30.
The other states would be North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina, Wyoming, Kansas and Colorado.
Most observers had believed the high court would take up at least one of their cases before it this term; but that didn’t happen, meaning the Supremes are staying out of the heated controversy…at least for now.
The action eventually will bring to 30 the number of states where gays and lesbians can marry. Appeals courts in Cincinnati and San Francisco are considering cases that could expand that number further, presuming the Supreme Court remains outside the legal fray.
USA Today offers an analysis of the widening impact of the court’s “inaction”:
What happens now will occur in stages. The five states whose petitions were denied will have same-sex marriages almost immediately. In the other six, at least one more court proceeding will be necessary.
And the number could quickly expand to 35 states if the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denies bans in Idaho and Nevada, which could happen any day. That ruling would affect Alaska, Arizona and Montana as well.
Cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee are pending before the 6th Circuit appeals court, which has been seen as a panel that could uphold bans in those states. If it goes the same way as the others, the list of states could expand to 39.
The court’s decision came without explanation and puts off a decision about the constitutionality of gay marriage that would uniformly apply to all 50 states.
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But some legal experts say it sends a clear signal that a majority of the court does not feel the need to overturn lower court decisions that found state prohibitions on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.
A spokesman for Virginia’s Attorney General says that gay marriages will now begin and be recognized as legal as soon as possible in the Commonwealth, possibly as early as today.