WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court passed up its first opportunity to re-enter the national debate on same-sex marriage Thursday, delaying a decision on whether to hear any new cases on the issue.
The justices are considering state bans on same-sex marriage in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin that have been overturned in lower courts. They must decide whether to hear any of those cases or let the latest court rulings stand, which would legalize gay marriage in 11 additional states.
The court delays action on same-sex marriage
If the court ultimately agrees to hear one or more cases, oral arguments would be held early in 2015 and a ruling rendered before the court adjourns in June. It is unlikely that the justices will decide before their next conference on Oct. 10.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage, and the high court ruled last year that the federal government cannot deny benefits to such couples. It sidestepped the remaining state laws by taking no position on the merits of California’s ban, which had been struck down by lower federal courts.
Since those decisions were handed down, six additional states have legalized gay marriage, and federal and state judges in 14 more states have overturned marriage bans, beginning with Utah last December. All those rulings have been put on hold during the appeals process, leaving 31 bans in place.
Even more cases from Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, Idaho and Nevada may be headed to the high court soon. Those cases have been argued before appellate courts and are awaiting decisions that will certainly be appealed.
The cases currently under consideration by the Supreme Court include those from three federal appeals courts:
• A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled 2-1 in June and July that same-sex couples in Utah and Oklahoma have “the same fundamental right” to marry as heterosexuals.
• A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled 2-1 in July that gay men and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry that is paramount to state marriage laws.
• A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit declared unanimously last month that gay marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin threaten “the welfare of American children.”
Last month, a federal district judge in Louisiana became the first to uphold a state’s ban in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court rulings. Until then, gay marriage proponents had won every federal case.
The Associated Press