U.S. Supreme Court Effectively Makes Gay Marriage Legal In 30 States, Not Idaho

Oct 6, 2014

Credit MyTudut / Flickr Creative Commons

This story was updated at 5:45 p.m.

State bans on same-sex marriages have been falling around the country since summer 2013, when the Supreme Court ordered the federal government to recognize state-sanctioned gay marriages. The high court Monday cleared the way for more expansion by turning away appeals from five states seeking to prohibit it.  

The court's decision effectively made gay marriage legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin in a ruling also affecting six states where same-sex marriages had been put on hold pending high-court review: Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming. Those states are in the 4th, 7th and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeals which have all struck down gay marriage bans.
 

Idahoans have been waiting for nearly a month to hear what the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will decide in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case. A district court overturned Idaho’s ban in May, but the state appealed. Arguments on that appeal were heard last month in San Francisco.

Shaakirrah Sanders, with the University of Idaho School of Law, says the 9th Circuit was likely to have upheld the lower court’s opinion anyway, but the Supreme Court decision makes that outcome even more likely. Sanders says that’s because it can be interpreted as a message from the high court that there was nothing wrong with other circuit courts’ decisions that allow gay marriages. 

“So now the 9th Circuit could look to those other three circuits and say ‘we are persuaded by the reasoning in those cases that the marriage ban in Idaho should be deemed unconstitutional,” Sanders says.

The Supreme Court decision could also mean same-sex marriages in Idaho happen sooner than they otherwise would have. Here’s how it could have played out if the Supreme Court decided to hear one state's case or do nothing at all: The 9th Circuit says Idaho’s ban should go. The state appeals, and the Supreme Court issues a stay on marriages while the case is pending.  That’s what happened in other states, including Utah.

But Sanders says Monday’s decision likely does away with that last step.

“I think if the 9th Circuit rules in favor of the plaintiffs, marriages will begin within a few days right after that,” she says.

Sanders expects a ruling from the 9th Circuit on Idaho’s case within a few weeks.

A look at where the issue stands across the country:

  • ARIZONA: In a ruling that called into question Arizona's gay marriage ban, a U.S. District Court judge handed a victory Sept. 12 to a gay man denied death benefits after losing his spouse to cancer.
  • ARKANSAS: A state judge in May struck down the state's ban. The state Supreme Court brought marriages to a halt and is weighing state officials' appeal. Same-sex couples are also suing the state in federal court. The attorney general's office has asked that proceedings in both cases be put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to take up a case from Utah.
  • FLORIDA: A federal judge declared the state's ban unconstitutional in mid-August, joining state judges in four counties. He issued a stay delaying the effect of his order, meaning no marriage licenses would be issued immediately issued for gay couples.
  • HAWAII: Same-sex couples sued in 2011 to overturn the state's ban. A federal court later upheld the ban, but then the Legislature last year legalized gay marriage. A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel heard arguments on the Hawaii case in San Francisco on Sept. 8, along with cases from Idaho and Nevada.
  • IDAHO: State officials are appealing a federal judge's decision to overturn the state's ban. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in San Francisco heard arguments Sept. 8 along with appeals from Hawaii and Nevada.
  • KENTUCKY: Two Kentucky cases were among six from four states heard in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Aug. 6. Rulings are pending on recognition of out-of-state marriages, as well as the ban on marriages within the state.
  • LOUISIANA: A parish judge ruled Sept. 22 that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional; the attorney general has appealed to the state's Supreme Court.
  • MICHIGAN: The state's ban was overturned by a federal judge in March following a rare trial that mostly focused on the impact on children. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati heard arguments Aug. 6, and a ruling is pending.
  • MISSOURI: A St. Louis circuit judge heard arguments Sept. 29 about Missouri's ban on same-sex marriages, less than a week after a hearing before a Jackson County judge in Kansas City on a lawsuit filed by gay couples who were legally wed in other states and want their marriages recognized in Missouri. Rulings in those cases are pending.
  • NEVADA: Eight couples are challenging Nevada's voter-approved 2002 ban, which a federal judge upheld a decade later. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel heard arguments Sept. 8, along with appeals from Hawaii and Idaho.
  • OHIO: Two Ohio cases were argued Aug. 6 in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and a ruling is pending. In one, two gay men whose spouses were dying sued to have their out-of-state marriages recognized on their spouses' death certificates. In the other, four couples sued to have both spouses listed on their children's birth certificates.
  • TENNESSEE: The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Aug. 6 on an appeal of a federal judge's order to recognize three same-sex couples' marriages while their lawsuit against the state works through the courts. A ruling is pending.
  • TEXAS: A federal judge declared the state's ban unconstitutional, issuing a preliminary injunction. The state is appealing to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which is soon expected to set a date for arguments.
  • ELSEWHERE: Other states with court cases demanding recognition of gay marriage are: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Most lawsuits challenge same-sex marriage bans or ask states to recognize gay marriages done in other states.