With the 2014-2015 United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) term nearly underway, the justices had to determine which cases they would add on to their docket for official judicial review. Five appeals of same-sex marriage laws were presented to SCOTUS, and in a move that shocked both proponents and of opponents of gay marriage, SCOTUS declined to add any of the five cases from the states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, and Virginia to their upcoming docket. The goal of these appeals was to preserve the same-sex marriage bans that had been denied by lower courts. However, both sides of same-sex marriage joined together in these lawsuits from different states because they finally wanted SCOTUS, for better or for worse, to officially declare whether the Constitution provides same-sex couples across the nation with the legal right to marry.
What the Supreme Court’s Denial Means for Nationwide Marriage Equality
At first glance, SCOTUS’ decision to not hear these cases might seem like a victory for same-sex marriage opponents. However, declining to hear the cases actually served to solidify the lower courts’ decision in all of the cases, all of which held that each state’s same-sex marriage ban was void and not legal. As a result, the past rulings still stand, and are now applicable to all states within the judicial district where the same-sex marriage bans were struck down. This means that because of the Court’s decision not to hear the cases, this decision effectively made same-sex marriage legal in 30 states, while before this decision same-sex marriage was only legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. These districts span across the entire nation and provide for marriage equality across all four corners of the U.S.
The response to the Court’s decision to essentially not make a decision about the constitutional nature of allowing same-sex marriage has left many at odds. Certain counties affected by the decision have quickly begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Other states and counties have been more defiant, but regardless of this defiance they have limited legal options besides allowing same-sex marriage because the highest court in the land has decided to pass on making an official decision on the issue.
Speculation for Why SCOTUS Did Not Hear the Appeals
Leading up to Court’s decision, many assumed that this would be the term that SCOTUS would finally decide on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. However, no one can know for sure why SCOTUS declined to hear the five cases that were before them. Some posit that they could be waiting for federal appeals courts to uphold a state’s same-sex marriage ban, and this is the sort of case that they would hear because the five previously presented were all by appellate courts who had struck down such bans. Or they may not see the point of getting involved at all since state and appellate courts have so far struck down same-sex marriage bans on their own. However, regardless of the underlying reasons, many have interpreted the Court’s decline to hear the cases as an indication that it believes that same-sex marriage should be allowed, but perhaps that it should be left to the states, instead of the federal government to decide.
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