The number of states still prohibiting same-sex marriage probably will dwindle to 14 within a few weeks as a result of the Supreme Court’s refusal to take up the issue Monday, a legal and political reversal of nearly unprecedented proportions.
Just over 10 years ago it was impossible for a same-sex couple to get married anywhere in the U.S. But by Monday more than half of Americans lived in a state with the immediate prospect of what supporters refer to as “marriage equality.”
The three appeals court rulings that the Supreme Court left standing Monday immediately affected Virginia, Oklahoma, Indiana, Wisconsin and Utah. But because the rulings are binding precedents throughout the regions where those three federal judicial circuits have jurisdiction, they will also apply to laws in six more states: North and South Carolina, West Virginia, Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming.
More shoes are about to drop as well.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is expected to rule any day in favor of gay marriage, which would add Idaho, Alaska, Arizona, Montana and Nevada to the marriage column.
At that point only 14 states in the South and Midwest would still have enforceable laws upholding the strongly held belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
At that point, however, the momentum could slow considerably.
Based on the tone of oral arguments in August, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio was expected to issue a ruling soon upholding bans on gay marriage that would affect Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan.
The 5th Circuit in New Orleans, perhaps the most conservative in the country, is soon to consider a ruling upholding the marriage ban in Louisiana. Its ruling would apply to Texas and Mississippi as well as Louisiana. The 11th Circuit in Atlanta, covering the rest of the deep South, may follow suit.
Less far along and less predictable is the 8th Circuit in St. Louis, covering the upper Midwest plus Arkansas and Missouri.
If one of those appellate courts upholds a ban on same-sex marriage, creating a division of opinion among the federal circuits, the Supreme Court would be likely to hear an appeal. Today’s action indicated that the result would be to uphold same-sex marriage nationwide.
But gay marriage groups are concerned that such a final ruling might not come until June 2015, leaving thousands of gay couples in two regions of the country in the lurch.
“Justice delayed is justice denied to thousands of gay couples across the country to whom the hand of justice did not extend today,” said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington.
“Today was not so much a victory as halftime, and we’re ahead,” Sainz said. “I have no doubt that our opponents will continue to fight.”
Indeed, Ralph Reed, long an influential conservative activist, vowed to do just that and predicted his view of marriage would eventually prevail. In the meantime, he said the court’s actions would help Republicans in the coming midterm congressional elections.
“We’re going to be in this fight for a long time,” said Reed, who is based in Atlanta. “In this case there were five states which all defined marriage as between a man and a woman and the Supreme Court would not lift a finger to defend those states laws.”
For more news on courts and legal affairs, follow TimPhelpsLAT on Twitter