Today the U.S. Supreme Court let stand appeals court rulings from five states that allow same-sex marriage. It may seem odd to some folks not familiar with the workings of the court, but what it has done is made a decision by staying quiet. By letting stand the decisions from those five states, the Court’s decision to not act clears the way for same-sex marriages in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. In each of those states lower courts had thrown out same-sex marriage bans or created a same-sex right to marry. The consequence is that there are now 24 states, along with the District of Columbia, that allow same-sex marriage.
Supporters of same sex marriage are lauding the decision of the Court as a victory. Hard logic to argue against. However, it is not the clear affirmation of an unconditional right for same-sex couples to marry that many advocates are wanting. I take this development as a sign that this conservative majority court just cannot bring itself to that point. Instead it is invoking a bit of Federalism and reserving power on the issue to the states and lower courts to do what they feel is best for their constituents, rather than just ending the debate by issuing a clear and final national ruling now. This pattern has been seen before as the court waited and waited before finally ringing the bell for civil rights, interracial marriage, and even the rights of the disabled.
The momentum is clear. Ready or not same-sex marriage is on the way in all of America. Once it becomes the way in forty or so states the Court will less emotionally, less affirmatively, and less debatably make it the law of the land. Today’s Supreme Court process may not be groundbreaking, but it could temper the white hot passion that drives both the yeas and the nays on same sex marriage.