WASHINGTON — Wedding bells for same-sex couples will soon ring out in 11 more states — many of them deeply conservative.
And, several legal experts said, it’s just a matter of time before same-sex marriages will be legal across America, after the Supreme Court on Monday let stand several lower-court decisions allowing gay weddings.
In effect, the Supreme Court made history by doing nothing.
The justices declined to hear challenges by five states — Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia — to appellate court rulings upholding the right to same-sex marriage.
Same-sex couples in six other states — Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming — that fall under the jurisdiction of those same appellate courts will soon be allowed to marry, too, experts said.
The court’s action was sudden and unexpected.
When the day began, same sex-marriage was legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. The court effectively expanded that number to 30 states — a watershed moment in the long and divisive battle over gay marriage.
County clerks in several states, such as Virginia and Oklahoma, immediately began issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
“This is the dream day,” Sharon Baldwin, a plaintiff in the challenge to Oklahoma’s ban, as she and her partner got their license in the Tulsa County clerk’s office.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, said the fight against same-sex marriage “is over” in his state.
“It is clear that the position of the court of appeals at the federal level is the law of the land, and we’re going to go forward enacting it,” he said.
But some politicians did not sound ready to give up the fight.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who is eyeing a 2016 presidential bid, called the high court’s action “tragic and indefensible,” saying it “paves the way for laws prohibiting same-sex marriage to be overturned in any state.”
The Supreme Court’s decision surprised analysts who expected the court to weigh on whether state bans violate the Constitution.
The justices did not explain why they decided to leave that question unanswered for now.
Still, what the justices did Monday “has to send a signal to the other courts of appeals that the Supreme Court does not think it’s so wrong to allow same-sex couples to marry, and that even conservative justices don’t think they have a good shot at getting five votes,” Jon Davidson of Lambda Legal, an advocacy group for gay rights, told The Associated Press.
“That sends a message that this essentially is over.”
Evan Wolfson of the group Freedom to Marry said the expansion of same-sex marriage rights into conservative states will accelerate the trend toward acceptance of gay weddings.
“Gays are not going to use up all the marriage licenses in Kansas,” he said. “There is plenty of marriage left for everyone else.”
Still, advocates of same-sex marriage hope the court will eventually strike down any restrictions as a violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.
The court stopped short of that position in its 5-to-4 landmark ruling last year that struck down part of a federal law denying federal benefits to legally married same-sex partners.
“Today we celebrate countless couples who will be able to marry the person whom they love, but our work isn’t finished — we will continue to fight until all Americans have full equality,” said Rep. Sean Maloney, the first openly gay member of Congress from New York State.
Maloney, a Democrat who represents the lower Hudson Valley, wed his longtime partner in June.
With News Wire Services
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