On Oct. 6, when the Supreme Court declined to review five appellate courts’ decisions to strike down bans on same-sex marriage, a new era for same-sex marriage emerged. Other district courts across the United States have taken this as a precedent to rule in favor of marriage equality.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia - the newest states being Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The number is predicted to soon rise to 35, up from just 19 states prior to the Supreme Court decision. Many legal analysts and activists found the Supreme Court's action surprising. “Avoiding the issue had the effect of legalizing same-sex marriage in several states,” Russell Robinson, Haas Institute LGBTQ Citizenship Faculty Cluster Distinguished Chair and UC Berkeley Law professor, said. “This development, along with the surge in public support for marriage equality, will make it easier for the Court to require every state to recognize same-sex marriage some day soon."
As the number of states with same-sex marriage grows, so too does the percentage of people who support marriage equality. A Gallup poll taken in May of this year recorded that 55 percent of Americans support gay marriage, in comparison to the 60 percent of Americans who opposed it when Massachusetts was the first state to legalize it. The percentage of support is projected to rise due to the effects of the Supreme Court's decision, when more states will join in on legalizing same-sex marriage.
Just two days after the Oct. 6 announcement, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, however, placed a temporary block on gay marriage in Idaho. The day before that, the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the gay marriage bans in Idaho, Nevada and three other states. In Idaho, state officials protested the appellate court’s decision. In response, Justice Kennedy ordered the appellate court to postpone its rulings. While Justice Kennedy quickly lifted the hold in Nevada, in Idaho plaintiffs in favor of same-sex marriage had to file a response to the court by the following day. The Supreme Court then lifted the block in Idaho on Oct. 10, allowing same-sex marriages to continue there.
On Oct. 13, a federal district court in Alaska and North Carolina ruled in favor of marriage equality.
Although appellate courts have recently struck down bans on marriage equality, it’s likely that one will eventually rule in favor of the ban.
“In the future, I expect that an appellate court will reach a different outcome, and that will prompt the Supreme Court to weigh in,” Professor Robinson said.
Nevertheless, the future looks hopeful for supporters of same-sex marriage. More than half of the states now allow gay couples to marry, and the Court’s decision sets a precedent for more cases to come.
According to Freedom to Marry, 55 percent of the U.S. population lives in states where same-sex marriage is legal, but once appellate courts review court cases that ruled in favor of gay marriage, it’s possible that 64 percent of the population will soon live in states with marriage equality.
“Even ten years ago, I was not certain that I would live to see the day when the Court declared a right to marry for all LGBT people,” Robinson said. “That decision seems imminent, and as a gay man, I find that inspiring.”