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The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the divisive issue of same-sex marriage, a surprise move that will allow gay men and women to marry in as many as 11 new states but leave the issue unsettled nationwide.
By rejecting appeals in cases involving Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana, the top court left intact lower-court rulings that declared the bans in those states unconstitutional. The court’s action Monday immediately ends delays on marriage in those five states.
Virginia, for example, may start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples as early as 1 p.m. ET, a state official said. The commonwealth will also recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they are already legal. "This is the outcome we've fought for, and it is the outcome that the Constitution requires," Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said at a news conference Monday.
And in addition to the five states where gay marriage will go forward, same-sex couples in six other states — Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming — will likely be able to get married soon, too, because those states are bound by the same appellate rulings that were put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s review.
The court’s action Monday effectively makes same-sex marriage legal in 30 states, plus the District of Columbia. Gay marriage was already legal in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Legal analysts had predicted the justices would settle the hot-button question of nationwide same-sex marriage once and for all this term.
The Human Rights Campaign, a prominent gay rights advocacy group, hailed the action. “Today is a joyous day for thousands of couples across America who will immediately feel the impact of today’s Supreme Court action,” HRC president Chad Griffin said. But he added that the “complex and discriminatory patchwork of marriage laws” left in place in states where gay marriage isn't legal was “unsustainable,” and the “only acceptable solution is nationwide marriage equality.”
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The National Organization for Marriage, a group that opposes marriages for same-sex couples, said it was "surprised and extremely disappointed" that the court rebuffed the pending cases. In a statement, the group called on Congress to "move forward immediately to send a federal marriage amendment to the states for ratification."
Monday's action does not set a legal precedent. Lower courts are free to rule for — or against — same-sex marriage, and we may yet get rulings upholding bans.
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