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A Historic (Non-) Decision by the Supreme Court: Same-Sex Marriage Will Soon Be Legal in 30 States

Getty Images/Mladen Antonov

The Supreme Court didn’t issue any opinions on Monday, but it did decline to hear appeals from five states—Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin—challenging lower-court rulings that legalized same-sex marriage. This is a big deal. In those five states, same-sex marriage will become legal very soon. In fact, marriages in Virginia began at 1 p.m. Monday.

But the implications of this go much farther than that. Those five states had appealed their decisions from three separate federal courts of appeal. Those courts, in turn, have jurisdiction over six additional states—Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming—that currently ban same-sex marriage. The three appeals courts will undoubtedly use the same legal arguments to strike down same-sex marriage bans in those six states in the near future. When that happens, same-sex marriage will be legal in 30 states plus the District of Columbia with a combined population of more than 190 million people. That’s 60 percent of the United States.

It’s an incredible feat for gay rights activists, although some wanted the Supreme Court to take a case and make a final decision on marriage equality. That was always unlikely, since the Court generally doesn’t hear cases unless there is a split opinion among federal appeals courts. That could happen soon, though. As ThinkProgress’s Ian Millhiser has explained, some more conservative appeals courts are poised to rule on marriage equality and at least one of them might rule against it. The Supreme Court could be waiting for that to happen before it takes a case. Other legal prognosticators believe the justices wants to wait until public opinion has moved even further in favor of same-sex marriage. “Once a substantial part of the country has experienced gay marriage,” Walter E. Dellinger III, the former acting solicitor general during the Clinton administration, told the New York Times, “then the court will be more willing to finish the job.”

Not everyone was happy with the Court’s decision, of course. In fact, you can probably guess who the most vocal critic of it was. Yes, Senator Ted Cruz. The Texas freshman called the decision “tragic and indefensible” and “judicial activism at its worst.” Cruz can huff and puff all he wants, but he’s on the losing end of a culture change that shows no sign of reversing itself. And as support for same-sex marriage continues to rise, Cruz’s position will become more and more unpopular.

Don’t expect Cruz to back down, though. As we’ve seen with Obamacare and immigration, when Cruz finds himself on the wrong end of public opinion, he doubles down on that position. That’s because conservative voters—the ones that will have an outsized impact on the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidate—are heavily opposed to Obamacare, to immigration reform, and, yes, to same-sex marriage. Cruz has reasoned that his best chance of winning the Republican nomination is to stake out positions as far to the right as possible. Whether or not he’s right, he will pull the entire Republican field to the right and make it even harder for his party to retake the White House.

Democrats will certainly capitalize on the political liabilities of that position. But on Monday, the practical effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling was much more significant. Tens of millions of people now live in states where same-sex marriage is legal. That’s worth celebrating.

Danny Vinik

News from Monday:

EBOLA: Obama announced that airports will be stepping up security to screen out Ebola victims before they enter the country. While he didn’t specify what those measures will be, you can be sure it’s more than the current protocol of telling agents to keep a lookout for passengers who look ill. (Susan Levine, Politico)

FERGUSON: A federal judge ruled that the “five second rule” used at times during the Ferguson protests to keep protestors moving is unconstitutional. (Julie Bosman, New York Times)

Articles worth reading:

Gravity: According to a recent study, Antarctica has lost 204 tons of ice in the last three years, and it’s shifting Earth’s gravity. In the three years studied, more ice mass melted than the weight of all humans on earth combined. (Matthew R. Francis, The Daily Beast)

NFL’s domestic violence problem: Remember reading about the “‘downright extraordinary’ arrest rate” of NFL players charged with domestic violence? Benjamin Morris is back with more on the methodology and the conclusions of his widely cited article. (Benjamin Morris, FiveThirtyEight)

Wages: The author of “Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed?” wrote an op-ed on why wages aren’t growing as quickly they “should be.” According to Jared Bernstein, employers have let inflation erode the value of workers’ wages. (Jared Bernstein, Washington Post)

Single women driving Dems: Democrats have seen an increase in popularity among single women since July, but single women are found to be a demographic that sits out midterm elections. Four Senate races in particular could be impacted if single women turn out to vote this year: North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, and Georgia. (Greg Sargent, Washington Post)

Longread of the day: Tiffany Stanley’s gut-wrenching story of how she became the caregiver to her aunt with Alzheimer’s when her father was hospitalized for congestive heart failure. (Tiffany Stanley, National Journal)

Stories we’re watching:

Continued reaction from the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear appeals of lower-court rulings legalizing same-sex marriage.


Danny Vinik writes about the possibility that Ebola becomes endemic in West Africa. And let John Judis introduce you to Liz Dickinson, the bisexual feminist running for the Kansas state legislature.