WASHINGTON: Same-sex couples will soon be able to wed in up to 30 US states after the Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider — for now — a nationwide ruling on the divisive issue.
In a surprise move, the court snubbed appeals from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin where state-level bans on gay marriage had been deemed unconstitutional.
Marriages in those five states had been on hold pending the high court’s decision on whether to hear the cases. Nineteen US states and the District of Columbia already recognize marriage equality, after the Supreme Court last year ruled that under federal law, wedded same-sex couples were entitled to the same rights and privileges as heterosexual ones.
The Human Rights Campaign, a prominent gay rights organization in Washington, said Monday’s development meant that same-sex couples in the five states “will soon be able to legally marry.”
The court also left in place rulings in three federal judicial districts, or circuits, “meaning couples in West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming will soon be able to marry as well,” it said.
Virginia reacted swiftly to the mid-morning decision, issuing marriage licenses by early afternoon and revising official forms to read “spouse and spouse” in lieu of “bride and groom.”
“We had kind of given up that Virginia was going to let us get married here,” said Diane Ullius, 67, at the Arlington County courthouse outside Washington with her partner Rhonda Buckner, 63.
On the other side of the country, Utah announced it too would immediately grant licenses for same-sex couples, even if the state’s powerful Mormon church remains opposed to such unions.
Without explicitly welcoming the court’s decision, White House spokesman Joshua Earnest reiterated President Barack Obama’s view that “it’s wrong” to deny marriage to same-sex couples.
“A growing majority of Americans already recognize that… marriage equality embodies our American values and fairness under the law. It’s certainly the president’s view here, too.”
Human Rights Campaign chairman Chad Griffin said Monday was “a joyous day for thousands of couples… who will immediately feel the impact of today’s Supreme Court action.” But he cautioned that “a complex and discriminatory patchwork of marriage laws” remains — with same-sex unions still outlawed in several states in the conservative heartland.
“The only acceptable solution is nationwide marriage equality, and we recommit to ourselves to securing that ultimate victory as soon as possible,” Griffin said in a statement.
State bans on same-sex marriage are still being challenged in 13 states.
Opinion polls suggest a majority of Americans accept gay and lesbian marriage, but opposition among conservatives and some faith groups, including the Catholic Church, remains strong.
“This is judicial activism at its worst,” said Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a potential White House hopeful in the 2016 elections.
“Unelected judges should not be imposing their policy preferences to subvert the considered judgments of democratically elected legislatures.”
Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage said it is possible the Supreme Court is waiting to see if a circuit court might break from the trend and rule against gay marriage.
In such an instance, a lower court “can rule in favor of the people’s right to define marriage as it has always been defined,” he said in a statement.
The National Organization for Marriage is pushing for Congress to put an amendment in the Constitution “to codify and define marriage once and for all” as between a man and a woman.
Many legal observers had expected the Supreme Court to return to the hot-button issue this season, after its landmark United States versus Windsor ruling in June 2013.
“This decision by the court is a huge step forward and a clear green light for full-speed ahead,” said Freedom to Marry, another pro-equality activist group.