Same-sex marriage just became legal in Utah. And Oklahoma. And a bunch of other seemingly unlikely places.
This morning, the Supreme Court denied review of several closely-watched cases in which same-sex marriage had been declared legal despite state laws banning it. In each of the cases, the lower court order legalizing same-sex marriage was on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision whether to take up the issue. Now that the Supreme Court has refused to weigh in, the lower court orders go into effect, and same-sex marriage is now legal (or soon will be as soon as some technicalities are resolved) in all states encompassed by the three federal appeals court circuits (the 4th, 7th, and 10th) whose orders were at issue.
According to the pro-marriage equality group Freedom To Marry, today’s events will result in same-sex marriage becoming legal in 30 states encompassing roughly 60% of the American population. Per the same group, the states that can now expect to see marriage equality in short order despite state laws banning it are: Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
The Supreme Court may well still weigh in – there are marriage cases pending before a couple of other federal appeals courts, and they could come out the other way, which would pretty much require the Supreme Court to resolve the conflict. But what happened today makes it much more likely that, fairly soon, same-sex marriage will be legal nationwide.
Why? Think about it this way. Four votes are required for the Supreme Court to take a case. That means that, if they wanted to, the “conservative” Justices – Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito – could have required the Court to accept any of these cases.
But they didn’t. Probably, they didn’t because they don’t think they have the five votes needed for the case to come out the way they want it to, which means they think Justice Kennedy is prepared to recognize a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.
And, as a practical matter, the Court’s action today means that, by the time the case does finally arrive at the Supreme Court (if it ever does), thousands of same-sex couples in the 10 states listed above will be married, will have kids, will have gotten their affairs in order based on the lower courts’ actions permitting them marry legally. Undoing those arrangements would be terribly disruptive, and would bring the Supreme Court’s already somewhat shaky public reputation into further question. Honestly, I don’t see it happening.
A lot of this is tea-leaf reading, which is notoriously hazardous when it comes to the Supreme Court. But one thing is clear: a whole lot more people just got marriage rights today. And that’s an unalloyed good thing.