The U.S. Supreme Court has stepped in to block a federal appeals court ruling that would have allowed gay marriages to begin in Virginia on Thursday. The decision was widely expected and tells little about how the high court will ultimately rule on the issue. It merely preserves the status quo. Now, it’s up to the Supreme Court. It’s unlikely they will continue a perpetual stay on the issue. The federal courts have been moving quickly on the issue, and the Utah and Virginia cases have passed through the appellate courts and await the Supreme Court. Virginia asked the justices to decide the gay marriage constitutional question “as quickly as possible.”
The first opportunity for the court to take action would be when it meets Sept. 29 for its first conference of the new term. But even if the court decides to go ahead and take the Utah case, which likely will be the first one there, the timetable for filing briefs would put the argument at mid- to late January at the earliest. If this timetable occurs, the Supreme Court could issue a ruling by late spring 2015.
Many court specialists believe the justices will go ahead and take either the Utah or Virginia case early in the term. Other experts think the justices may want to wait for a decision from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, where the panel at argument this month sounded as though it would uphold the ban on gay marriage. That would provide a conflict in the lower courts for the Supreme Court to resolve.
To date there have been 37 pro-gay marriage rulings in state and federal courts since the Supreme Court last year struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That law barred federal recognition of marriages performed in states where such unions are legal, and set the stage for a nearly unanimous set of rulings in the lower courts issued by both Republican and Democratic appointees.
While the nations lower courts have consistently overturned gay marriage bans, the Supreme Court will likely be forced to make a final decision on the matter. This is a risky proposition. Equal protection should give the Supreme Court no choice but to say that all states must recognize same sex marriages from states where it is legal. Will they go a step further and make it legal in all states, or issue a partial ruling such as in the case of the Defense of Marriage Act? However, if the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals does uphold the ban, the Supreme Court could do the same, and marriage equality will take a step backwards, or at the very least remain static. Federal recognition could remain, and state recognition could continue to be a state issue.
Nineteen of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, currently allow same-sex marriage. How likely do you think it is that the United States will have nationwide marriage equality by the summer of 2015?