By Not Acting, Supreme Court Puts United States On A Path Towards Marriage Equality

By deciding to allow appeals court rulings in five states stand, the Supreme Court has essentially put the United States on a path to make this legal in most, if not all, of the United States. While same-sex marriage only directly affects a small percentage of the country, it has become a litmus test to distinguish left from right, and demonstrate the emptiness of Republican claims of supporting smaller government and more freedom.

For liberals, same-sex marriage is a fundamental matter of individual liberty. Conservatives, who often fail to understand liberal concepts of liberty and equal treatment under the law, limit their support for freedom to behaviors they approve of. Often to conservatives, freedom of religion means the freedom to impose their religious views upon others.

This affects far more than those in the five states where federal appeals courts have already ruled that bans on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. From FiveThirtyEight:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday to decline hearing a series of appeals cases on same-sex marriage will have the effect of immediately legalizing gay marriage in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. When combined with the 19 states (and the District of Columbia) that had previously legalized same-sex marriage, these states have a collective population of roughly 165 million, according to 2013 census figures.

That means for the first time, same-sex marriage is legal for the majority of the U.S. population. The 26 states where the practice is not legal have a total population of about 151 million.

The Supreme Court’s decision may also lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming. Those states have an additional 25 million people combined. If they follow suit, 30 states and the District, totaling about 60 percent of the U.S. population, would allow same-sex marriage.

SCOTUSblog also states that this will extend legalization of same-sex marriage to thirty states and  “there are four other federal appeals courts that are currently considering challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage.” One implication of this is that, “A ruling by at least one of them that states can prohibit same-sex marriage would create the kind of disagreement among the lower courts that might spur the Court to grant review.”

The New York Times thinks that the result of today’s ruling will  ultimately be expanding legalization of same-sex marriage nation-wide in a matter comparable to elimination of laws prohibiting interracial marriage, with the Supreme Court unlikely to rule against this in the future.

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.

Buzzfeed has a listing of the legal status of same-sex marriage in each state.

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