No matter which side of the issue you’re on, the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the seven same-sex cases that had been submitted to the court was the only proper option.
Under normal circumstances, the loser of a case at the state level might appeal that ruling to the appellate level, as happened when Utah’s Judge Shelby ruled Utah’s ban on same-sex marriages were unconstitutional and the state appealed to the 10th Circuit Court. If the circuit court takes the case and rules the same way, the loser has the option to appeal the case again to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) —again, as happened in the case over Utah’s Amendment 3. The Supreme Court then decides whether or not to take the case and either uphold or override the lower courts’ rulings.
But in the same-sex marriage cases, things worked differently. It wasn’t just the Utah case the Supreme Court was looking at, it was seven different cases from states around the country. And in each of those cases, the appellate courts overseeing them all ruled that denying same-sex couples their right to get married is unconstitutional.
Seven identical rulings. That’s an unusually large (and historic) body of rulings for the Supreme Court to be presented with.
Could SCOTUS have taken up the case? Yes. But because the high court oversees the entire country, their rulings have much wider impacts than do state or appellate courts. If SCOTUS had upheld the lower courts’ rulings, it would have automatically legalized same-sex marriages nationwide. Same thing if they had overturned the lower courts, it would have effectively banned same-sex marriage in all states that haven’t legalized same-sex marriage through their legislatures.
Until an appellate court rules in favor of a ban on same-sex marriage (if that ever happens), the Supreme Court has no motivation to take up the case. It’s all about the process, and we have no doubt that the Justices will allow the remaining cases (there’s at least one in every single state that still has a ban in place) to move through the system at their own pace, allowing each judge to make their own decision.
So while some on both sides of the issue may be lamenting the court’s decision not to act, there really was no other proper option.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of UPC or its staff.