With Virginia on hold, same-sex marriage cases await Supreme Court


The Supreme Court waded back into the legal debate over same-sex marriage this week when it agreed to delay a lower court ruling in Virginia that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry.

Wednesday's decision was just one of a handful of times the Supreme Court has made any moves on the subject since striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. The court has given little indication of when it will eventually take up the fundamental question of whether same-sex couples have a right to marry, or how it would rule on the matter. However, there's been a flurry of activity in the lower courts on the matter, bringing the issue closer to the high court.

While there are dozens of cases challenging same-sex marriage bans, the Virginia case is one of the furthest along. Last month, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Virginia ban is unconstitutional. The state has now asked the Supreme Court to review the decision. Because of that request, the Supreme Court decided the ban in Virginia should stay in place for now.

However, the court didn't give any hints as to whether it will actually take up the Virginia case. In the order issued this week, the Supreme Court said that if it denies the request to review the Virginia case, "this stay shall terminate automatically." In other words, same-sex couples in Virginia will be able to get married.

Two other states this month -- Oklahoma and Utah -- also officially asked the Supreme Court to review cases that knocked down their respective same-sex marriage bans. Both the Oklahoma and Utah bans were ruled unconstitutional by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court is currently on recess, and it's unclear when it may decide to take up any of these cases. At the earliest, it could consider these cases when the justices meet again on September 29, in its first private conference meeting of the next term.

In the meantime, several cases continue to advance in lower courts. On Thursday, a district judge ruled that Florida's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Judge Robert Hinkle stayed his ruling while it is appealed, meaning that the marriage ban will stay in place for now.

Next Tuesday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals is slated to hear arguments over same-sex marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin. In both of those states, federal district courts ruled the bans were unconstitutional.

Currently, there are 19 states, plus Washington, D.C., that allow same-sex marriage, as seen in the states above. In another 14 states, judges have issued rulings in favor of same-sex marriage, the rulings have been stayed as the cases make their way through court.