What Today's Supreme Court Move on Gay Marriage Means

PHOTO: Same-sex marriage supporters wave a rainbow flag in front of the US Supreme Court, March 26, 2013 in Washington.PlayJewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Supreme Court Denies Appeals From States That Wanted to Keep Ban on Same Sex Marriage.

In a move that surprised almost everyone, the Supreme Court today decided that it would not hear any of the gay marriage cases currently before it -- dramatically expanding the number of states that allow gay marriage.

The decision means that, for now, the Supreme Court has sent the message it doesn’t want to step into the debate regarding gay marriage. It also means that same sex couples in Indiana, Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma and Wisconsin will be able to marry in short order.

Ted Olson, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the challenge to the Virginia’s gay marriage ban, called the Court’s decision “a momentous victory for the constitutional promise of equality, dignity and justice for all Americans.”

“Today, I am proud to call myself a Virginian. With the Commonwealth’s discriminatory marriage ban finally and conclusively struck down, we are one giant step closer to the day that all Americans, not just Virginians, can enjoy their right to marriage equality under the law,” he said.

The 16-year-old daughter of plaintiffs Carol Schall and Mary Townley also issued a statement: "I am so thankful that other children like me can finally hold their heads high knowing their families matter and are finally equal. I cannot wait for the day that all American kids, no matter where they live and no matter who their parents are, are treated equally.”

The Supreme Court's move directly affects the five states, but other states in those jurisdiction will also be affected -- possibly bringing the number of states that allow gay marriage up to 30. It sends a strong signal that the Supreme Court wants this issue to percolate in the states.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg told the Associated Press a few weeks ago that the court was in “no hurry” unless there was a split in the lower courts. So far -- since Windsor -- there has not been a split.

"The fact that the Court denied review in these cases, rather than holding them to see whether the 5th and 6th Circuits rule differently and uphold a marriage ban, sends a very strong signal about how the Court would rule if either of those courts rule that way,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, of the American University Washington College of Law. “Simply put, there's no reason for the Justices to have dumped these cases at this stage unless they've all-but decided to reverse any lower-court decision that upholds a ban on same-sex marriage. Now, the question becomes whether the lower courts get that message.”

Why is this a surprise? Because the Court has twice stepped in and stopped marriages from going forward pending the appeal.

In a news release, Human Rights Campaign said the decision was “joyous” for thousands of couples across the marriage, but said it did want the issue to eventually be decided nationally.

“Let let me be clear,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. "The complex and discriminatory patchwork of marriage laws that was prolonged today by the Supreme Court is unsustainable. The only acceptable solution is nationwide marriage equality and we recommit to ourselves to securing that."

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