This week, the Supreme Court denied all seven petitions related to same-sex marriage, which may or may not come as a shock to you. You are likely to recall that in June 2013, in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which had defined “marriage” as a union between a man and a woman. This five-to-four decision meant that same-sex couples who were married in states where same-sex marriage was legal would have the same rights as other married couples when it came to things like, say, filing joint federal tax returns.
After the Windsor case, we all knew that the same-sex marriage issue would be back in the Supreme Court. We also knew that the Court was not completely opposed to addressing the issue. So you wouldn’t be totally off-base in assuming that the Supreme Court would take on at least one of these seven petitions. But, if you were really tuning in, the denial of the petitions is not all that surprising. For instance, recently, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that the Court might not take on the current issue because there was no disagreement among the lower courts at this point. And it seems as though her prediction was correct.
But the fact that the Supreme Court has denied these petitions does not mean that there are not huge effects, so it’s important to understand these cases and know what to expect in the future.
To begin with, let’s look at the seven petitions the Court denied:
- Baskin v. Bogan (Indiana): This case challenged the state’s denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples. It was filed in federal district court on March 12, 2014 where Chief Judge Richard Young found for the plaintiffs. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the district court ruling in a unanimous decision on September 4. Both parties asked the Supreme Court to consider the case.
- Walker v. Wolf (Wisconsin): This is federal lawsuit filed in February 2014 that challenged Wisconsin’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In June 2014, Judge Barbara Crabb of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled for the plaintiffs. The state appealed her decision to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed her opinion in a unanimous decision on September 4. Wisconsin asked the Supreme Court to consider the case.
- Herbert v. Kitchen (Utah): A federal case that challenged Utah’s constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Three same-sex couples filed suit in March 2013. In December 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah found the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. In June 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court. All parties supported review by the Supreme Court.
- McQuigg v. Bostic, Rainey v. Bostic, Schaefer v. Bostic (Virginia): A group of same-sex couples in Virginia filed suit to challenge the state’s refusal to acknowledge same-sex marriages. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the plaintiffs and the case went to the Supreme Court for consideration.
- Smith v. Bishop (Oklahoma): Two same-sex couples challenged Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage. In January 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Terence Kern ruled that Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
In the coming days and weeks, you can expect that same-sex marriages will be permitted when existing lower-court rulings against state bans go into effect in Indiana, Wisconsin, Utah, Virginia, and Oklahoma. Also, when the court of appeals rulings are implemented, same-sex marriages can occur in North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia (Fourth Circuit) and in Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming (Tenth Circuit). And finally, four other circuits – the Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Eleventh – are currently considering the constitutionality of same-sex marriages. And these circuits could make decisions based on how they interpret what the Supreme Court did.
Needless to say, denying the petitions has had and will have a resounding impact.
You can hear my thoughts on this topic on the Legal Lis podcast: foxrad.io/1v2H4St