U.S. Justices Give a Quiet Push to Gay Marriage ; Couples in 5 More States Allowed to Wed as Court Declines to Hear Appeals

By Liptak, Adam | International New York Times, October 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

U.S. Justices Give a Quiet Push to Gay Marriage ; Couples in 5 More States Allowed to Wed as Court Declines to Hear Appeals


Liptak, Adam, International New York Times


The decision to let stand appeals court rulings allowing same- sex marriage in five states may signal the inevitability of a nationwide right to such unions.

The United States Supreme Court let stand appeals court rulings allowing same-sex marriage in five states, a major surprise that could signal the inevitability of the right of same-sex marriage nationwide.

The development cleared the way for same-sex marriages in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Gay and lesbian couples started getting married in those states within hours.

The decision on Monday to let the appeals court rulings stand, which came without explanation in a series of brief orders, will have an enormous practical effect and may indicate a point of no return for the Supreme Court.

Most immediately, the Supreme Court's move increased the number of states allowing same-sex marriage to 24, along with the District of Columbia, up from 19. Within weeks legal ripples from the decision could expand same-sex marriage to 30 states.

That means nearly two-thirds of same-sex couples in the United States will soon live in states where they can marry, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.

Should the court then take up a same-sex marriage case next year or in another term, the justices may be reluctant to overturn what has become law in the majority of American states, said Walter E. Dellinger III, who was an acting United States solicitor general in the Clinton administration.

"The more liberal justices have been reluctant to press this issue to an up-or-down vote until more of the country experiences gay marriage," Mr. Dellinger said. "Once a substantial part of the country has experienced gay marriage, then the court will be more willing to finish the job."

There is precedent for such an approach: The court waited to strike down bans on interracial marriage until 1967, when the number of states allowing such unions had grown to 34, even though interracial marriage was still opposed by a significant majority of Americans. But popular opinion has moved much faster than the courts on same-sex marriage, with many Americans and large majorities of young people supporting it.

Opponents of same-sex marriage expressed frustration with the development. John C. Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University in California, said it was "beyond preposterous" for federal courts rather than the democratic process to define the meaning of marriage. Supporters of traditional marriage vowed to continue their fight, noting that several federal appeals courts are yet to be heard from.

"The court's decision not to take up this issue now means that the marriage battle will continue," said Byron Babione, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom. "The people should decide this issue, not the courts. …

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