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The U.S. Supreme Court declined review of a same-sex marriage case. Advocates on either side of the aisle had pressed for action, seeking a definitive ruling on whether the Constitution guarantees same-sex marriage rights.

But by declining, the court effectively opened the door for same-sex marriages in as many as 11 states. The appeals presented to the court were from states where same-sex marriage bans had been struck down – Utah, Indiana, Wisconsin, Virginia and Oklahoma. By allowing the appellate courts’ rulings to stand, gay marriages effectively become legal in those states.

What’s more, because those decisions impact not just individuals states but their entire respective circuits, we are likely to see gay marriage approved also in West Virginia, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, North Carolina and South Carolina. Those states are under the jurisdiction of the same appellate courts. Other states outside those jurisdictions have been left in a place of uncertainty.

Our Brooklyn family law attorneys know that New York has allowed same-sex marriages since 2011. That means same-sex divorce in New York is also much more streamlined than in other states. By the justices deciding not to intervene in these pending appeals, it may make the process even easier, particularly for those who move out-of-state.

The core issue is whether homosexual couples in all 50 states should have the same equal protection and/or due process right to marry that “traditional” couples enjoy. Those who support the bans say it was a matter of voters’ rights, and the appellate courts’ decisions were an infringement of those bans.

Prior to this ruling, there were 19 states – plus the District of Columbia – that allowed same-sex marriage. It was banned in 31 states. Now, this decision to allow the appellate court rulings to stand makes it so that same-sex marriage is legal in 30 states (plus D.C.). There are also a few that offer some protections short of marriage, such as domestic partnerships and civil unions, but divorce in those places can be a tricky issue.

Given the complexity surrounding this continued patchwork of laws creates, why wouldn’t the Supreme Court simply agree to decide the issue once and for all? Likely, it has to do with the fact that the high court looks to take on cases it views as the “best vehicle” for deciding a particular issue. Usually, that means arguments on both sides have to be both strong and clear.

The judges did not offer any explanation for why they chose not to resolve the issue now, but many speculated it was this “best vehicle” standard that prompted them to delay taking it on.

However, many are still anticipating a landmark decision on the issue from the high court within the next year or two. It’s been estimated that roughly 80 marriage equality lawsuits are pending in 31 states that have current bans. A review by the Supreme Court would put those lawsuits on hold. However, by standing on the sidelines, the justices have chosen to wait to see how those battles play out before weighing in.

For help with same-sex family law matters Brooklyn, call our offices at (718) 864-2011.

Additional Resources:

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Gay Marriage Cases in New Term, Oct. 6, 2014, By Bill Chappell, NPR

More Blog Entries:

In re the Marriage of Evans: Be Cautious of Pre-Disclosure Agreements, Sept. 15, 2014, Brooklyn Family Law Attorney Blog