Gay marriage edges closer to US Supreme Court
When the US Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act exactly one year ago, it stopped short of saying states cannot ban gay marriage.
But in 17 straight rulings, judges have argued the high court’s ruling means just that: States cannot get in the way of gay couples who want to marry.
The most significant of those decisions came Wednesday when the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals became the first appellate court to find that last year’s decision means states cannot deny gays the right to marry. It upheld a ruling that found Utah’s gay marriage ban was unconstitutional.
That decision increases pressure on the Supreme Court to make explicit what it did not say last year – that gay couples nationwide have a right to marry.
“This tees it up for possible Supreme Court review,” said William Eskridge, a law professor at Yale University. “When a federal appeals court strikes down a major state law, there is a lot more pressure for the justices to take that.”
Utah is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court, but there is no guarantee its case will make it to the top court. Five other appellate courts are considering similar cases, and the Supreme Court could take any of those.
The soonest the high court could decide a gay marriage case is 2015, but it often waits for a split in appellate courts before considering an issue.
Nancy Leong, a law professor at the University of Denver, noted the recent judicial unanimity on the issue could make that a long wait. Meanwhile, she said, countless gay couples are eager to marry and less and less tolerant of the slow pace of the courts.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 19 states and the Washington capital district, and recent polls show a majority of Americans – including President Barack Obama – support it.