After years of legal battles, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case of several states’ same-sex marriage bans Monday, effectively legalizing marriage for all couples in Wisconsin and ushering in a new age of marriage rights throughout the United States.
This decision lets Appeals Court decisions that permit same-sex marriage in Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Virginia and Utah stand. Following Monday’s decision, same-sex marriage is now allowed in 30 states.
“This is an amazing victory,” Molly Collins said, associate director of American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. “The Fourth, Seventh and Tenth circuit decisions are now final, and marriages will go forward immediately in Wisconsin.”
The ACLU brought the lawsuit against the same-sex marriage ban on behalf of eight couples. The case was eventually brought before US District Court Judge Barbara Crabb, who ruled that Wisconsin’s ban was unconstitutional. A week later, Crabb halted marriages, deciding to wait for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue.
Collins said that because of the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear marriage equality cases, all of the other states in the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth circuits are now bound by the decisions made by federal appeals courts, ruling that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. These states include Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“Marriages will be happening in those states,” Collins said. “It will bring the number of states with marriage for same-sex couples to 30.”
Marriage licenses are now being issued in Dane County and around the state to same-sex couples. In addition, same-sex marriage licenses that were issued in early June, during the week following Judge Crabb’s decision, will now be recognized by the state.
Collins said there is still the possibility that other circuit courts will reach decisions different than those of the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth circuits. The Supreme Court has not itself ruled bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, meaning that such power currently remains with the circuit courts. Bans of same-sex marriage are still in effect in 20 states.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry in Wisconsin, said in a statement, “The Court’s delay in affirming the freedom to marry nationwide prolongs the patchwork of state-to-state discrimination.”
Opponents to the Supreme Court’s decision argue that this issue is not yet resolved.
In a statement following the Court’s refusal, attorney Byron Babione said, “The court’s decision not to take up this issue now means that the marriage battle will continue.” Babione is the senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, an advocacy group that represented two Virginia clerks in their appeal. “The people should decide this issue, not the courts.”
Despite the possibility of a ban returning to Wisconsin, proponents of same-sex marriage remain optimistic. The ACLU is confident that this is a turning point in the same-sex marriage debate.
“We think the Supreme Court’s action this morning sends an unmistakable signal that the Court is comfortable with the lower court decisions in favor of marriage,” Collins said. “And we think that lower courts will get that signal loud and clear.”