Gay marriage supporters have had a lot to cheer over the past two years thanks to a series of landmark rulings that have paved the way for marriage equality in an ever-increasing number of states. But on Monday morning (October 6), it was something the Supreme court didn't do that will make same-sex marriage the law in the majority of the country.
At the start of the new Supreme Court term, the justices announced that they had rejected appeals from five states that were seeking to prohibit same-sex marriages (Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin), which basically means that gay marriage will become the law effective immediately. According to the Associated Press, the justices did not comment on why they were denying the appeals.
But their decison not to hear the case caught many by surprise. In addition to ending delays in those five states mentioned above, it also paves the way for couples in six other states: North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming, because lower court judges in those states must now go along with the appeals court rulings.
So Can Couples Head Down To The Courthouse Right Now?
"For the five states that had those circuit court rulings that said the same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, it will happen almost immediately," said Patrick Paschall, Senior Policy Counsel at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. In fact, as Paschall was explaining the timeline to MTV News on Monday afternoon, Virginia has begun the process of issues marriage licenses immediately. "[In the other four] it's not automatic, but the state's attorney general will determine what mechanisms need to be put in place for same-sex marriage licenses and it's a matter of days, not months."
For the other six states covered by those appeals courts, Paschall said it's a bit more complicated. "Some may pay attention immediately and change their policy, but others it may take a couple applying for a license, being denied and then going to court," he said. "In which case it could be anywhere from tomorrow to a couple of months."
Officially The Law In MOST Of The Country
What's the big deal? Well, in addition to spreading the love to 11 new states, the Supreme Court's inaction means that 30 states (and the District of Columbia) now allow gay marriage, representing 60 percent of the country's population. And that's not the end. There are cases currently pending in appeals courts in Cincinnati and San Francisco that could expand the number even more, as long as the Supreme Court remains on the sidelines.
In the Cincinnati case, the 6th Circuit court is weighing pro-gay marriage rulings in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee, though experts believe those cases could favor state bans over legalization, while the 9th Circuit in San Francisco is more likely to remove restrictions in Idaho and Nevada.
"Any time same-sex couples are extended marriage equality is something to celebrate, and today is a joyous day for thousands of couples across America who will immediately feel the impact of today’s Supreme Court action," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a statement. "But let me be clear, the complex and discriminatory patchwork of marriage laws that was prolonged today by the Supreme Court is unsustainable. The only acceptable solution is nationwide marriage equality and we recommit to ourselves to securing that ultimate victory as soon as possible."