With the latest decision, or rather lack of a decision, on gay marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court, the balance of states where gays and lesbians will soon be able to legally wed, is tipping. Five states—Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin—had appeals before the high court to overrule lower courts’ decisions to strike down same sex marriage bans.
One avenue to explore for research paper topics on the ruling includes what is behind the Supreme Court’s dodging of these appeals? Another topic question would be are there consequences beyond the five states involved?
Supreme Court far-reaching effects
By opting to not rule, the Supreme Court has effectively allowed Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin to begin allowing same sex marriage. But the decision by the High Court will also have a potential effect on about six more states. “An Explainer on the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Decision” by Ashby Jones for The Wall Street Journal’s blog on October 6, 2014, shared that the Court also left in place rulings from the Fourth, Seventh and 10th circuit courts.
What does that mean? Jones wrote, “It’s likely that bans on same-sex marriage in six states within those circuits are now in serious jeopardy. Those states are North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Wyoming, West Virginia, and Colorado.” Should that happen, 30 of the 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., will have declared gay marriage legal.
Reaction from same sex marriage advocates
Many groups who support gay marriage were happy with what the Supreme Court did. Not only will couples in those five states be able to immediately file for marriage licenses, but also by sidestepping the issue, the high court sent a message to lower court justices as well about the constitutionality of same sex marriage bans. Lawrence Hurley weighed in for Reuters.com October 6, 2014, with “Supreme Court dodges gay marriage, allowing weddings in five more states.” Hurley wrote that Freedom to Marry (a same sex marriage group) “still want the high court to intervene and provide a definitive ruling covering all 50 states.”
An especially interesting aspect of the Court’s non-ruling, and one that provokes many research paper topics, is that the justices offered no explanation for their decision. For the court to decide to move forward with a case, four justices must vote to hear it. So at least nine of the 12 justices voted no. But who, and why?
Fast moving changes
Gays and lesbians have had a tumultuous decade. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same sex marriage. Fast forward to 2014 and now gay marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, with the five states who had the appeals before the Supreme Court soon to bring that number to 24 states. Why has the tide shifted so quickly?
“Five Reasons Gay Marriage Is Winning” by Kevin Eckstrom for the National Catholic Reporter June 6, 2014, explores those questions. He credits the following with the rapid changes:
1. Cultural shifts. Gays and lesbians have become more visible in daily life thanks to the media.
2. A friend in the Oval Office. It may have taken President Obama some time to get there, but his support of same sex marriage has been very beneficial.
3. Conservative over reach. A push for a national ban and an inability to compromise hurt the conservatives and strengthened supporters of gay marriage.
4. The fading influence of religion. The church doesn’t hold the sway over the majority of Americans the way it used to. Eckstrom wrote, “77 percent of Americans say religion is losing its influence on public life.”
5. A negative image. Perhaps most damaging of all to those who opposed same sex marriage was the hateful and uncompassionate air that surrounded their efforts and turned people off.
Why is no decision from the Supreme Court good for same sex marriage? What do you think the high court was thinking when it declined to decide whether states can ban gay marriage? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.