On Monday, October 6, 2014, the United States Supreme Court declined to decide whether states have the right to ban gay marriage. The court rejected appeals that prohibited gay marriage, without comment, leaving intact the lower-court rulings striking down these bans. This move allowed gay men and women the right to get married in five additional states: Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, which brings the total to 24 states that now permit gay marriage.
The shift towards the courts’ approval of gay marriage began in June of 2013 when the Supreme Court justices decided Windsor v. United States. The justices in Windsor voted 5-4 to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between one man and one woman for the purpose of federal government benefits. The shift in public opinion to supporting gay marriage is also relatively recent, with Massachusetts being the first state to allow gay marriage in 2004.
Some proponents of gay marriage continue to fight, arguing that the delay in affirming the freedom to marry nationwide prolongs the patchwork of state-to-state discrimination and continues the harms and indignity that the denial of marriage still inflicts on too many couples in too many places. Opponents of gay marriage also continue to fight, arguing that the people should decide this issue, not the courts. Many people on both sides of the issue are ready for the Supreme Court to make a final decision, arguing that the justices have an obligation to settle an issue of such national importance and not abdicate that responsibility to the lower court judges.
On the other hand, the denial in itself makes a statement that proponents are beginning to embrace. Same-sex marriage will soon be legal in six more states based on regional federal appellate court rulings: Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
The Supreme Court did not explain why it was not taking up this controversial issue, but it will most likely not rule on the matter anytime soon. Some states are still litigating the issue, while others have accepted the rulings applicable to them and are no longer defending same-sex marriage bans.
By: Molly McClure, Reference Assistant