The Supreme court was expected this session to take up and rule on challenges to lower court ruling that found state laws that didn't grant marriage equality were unconstitutional. These rulings rested on a variety of grounds varying from the right of privacy to the best interest of children. By deciding not to take up the issue, the Supreme Court leaves those ruling intake and spread marriage equality.
The decision not to make a decision immediately effects five states in which federal appeals courts had already struck now bans on same sex marriage: Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Utah. In the case of Virginia, marriage certificates are being issued now. In other states it may take up to 30 days for the process to start.
Eventually it will also bring along North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming as those states are in the same federal circuits. That means that as soon as someone files suit in those states challenging those state's bans on same sex marriage the courts will be bound by precedent to overturn those bans. Those suits are expected to be filed within days and be could be decided in the next few months. That means by that within a year we can expect same sex marriage to be legal in at least 30 states.
That still leaves 20 states without marriage equality. Such a patchwork approach leaves many gaps for same sex married couples with regard to rights to custody and the right to divorce as they move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Which is why we still encourage all same sex couples to complete a co-habitation agreement and follow up with step parent adoptions to make their rights portable even if they are legally married.
It also means that there are now a large number of states were same sex couples are free to marry but are not protected by anti-discrimination statutes so they can still be fired or denied housing or other rights crucial to actually protecting the rights of their families.
Most Court watchers thought that the Supreme Court would be either granting same sex marriage nationwide or endorsing bans that set the movement back. Instead it seemingly endorsed the slow patchwork movement toward progress. As MLK Jr said "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." We are now eleven states closer.
If you have questions about how to best protect the rights of your family, please contact for a free consult on estate planning, relationship agreements, step parent, or adult adoption at email@example.com or (206) 459-1908.
For a helpful map of the impact of today's decision see this helpful map.