Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court chose to do nothing, which, ironically, resulted in the most widespread impact on the marriage equality movement to date. The Supreme Court’s inaction – its decision not to review lower court rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans – effectively added 12 more states to the marriage equality column.
What Happened? Here’s What the Court Didn’t Do
Three separate federal appeals courts (for the Fourth, the Seventh and the Tenth circuits) struck down state marriage bans from five different states – Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana. These states appealed the decisions to the Supreme Court (or SCOTUS). Yesterday, SCOTUS denied review of these petitions, meaning it chose not to hear the states’ appeals. In doing so, the Supreme Court left the lower court rulings in place. As a result, the same-sex marriage bans in these five states are no longer valid, and same-sex couples in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana are now free to marry.
The Court’s inaction will also affect a few additional states. Because the Justices let the lower court rulings stand, those decisions now become law of the land for other states that fall under the Fourth (Virginia), Seventh (Indiana and Wisconsin) and Tenth (Utah and Oklahoma) Circuits. This means that six other states whose same-sex marriage bans are still on the books will soon have to admit defeat, as their bans are now effectively dead. These states include West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado (but see below) and Wyoming.
Colorado’s AG Follows the Court’s Lead
Soon after the Court’s decision, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who previously vowed to defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban, announced he would no longer do so. “There are no remaining legal requirements that prevent same-sex couples from marrying in Colorado,” Suthers said in a statement today. He also indicated that all 64 of Colorado’s county clerks are now legally required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples requesting them.
The Ninth Circuit Struck Down Two More Bans Today
And just today, the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Nevada and Idaho. This ruling is expected to control pending challenges to bans in Alaska, Arizona and Montana.
What a Difference a Year Makes – What’s the Roundup?
- This time last year, same-sex marriage was legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
- As of yesterday, same-sex marriage was legal in 24 states, plus D.C. (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin).
- As of today, that number grew to 27, plus D.C. – adding Colorado, Idaho and Nevada.
- Eight more states (West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Wyoming, Alaska, Arizona and Montana) will likely be next as a result of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling and the Ninth Circuit’s decision today – the total number could soon be 35 marriage equality states, plus D.C.