Marriage Equality Could Be Coming Next Summer

by Nuzha Nuseibeh

On Thursday, the Sixth Circuit Court ruled 2-1 to uphold same-sex marriage bans in four states, the first time a federal court has done so since DOMA. But while the decision was shockingly disappointing, it may turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to the marriage equality fight. Now, thanks to this "circuit split" (essentially, disagreement amongst the federal appeal courts), the question is no longer if but when SCOTUS will finally rule on gay marriage. Incredibly? It might be as soon as this June.

Last month, the Supreme Court chose not to get involved in the appeals of several states hoping to keep their gay marriage bans. It was a surprising move that — though it admittedly resulted in same-sex marriage being officially legalized in a dozen states — left the country in the same chaotic limbo it's been in for a while, with bans being upheld, stayed, appealed, overturned, and appealed again in many a state.

The reason they didn't take it up? They have to be picky: Petitions are submitted to SCOTUS by the thousands, yet less than a 100 of them usually make it into court. At the time, the issue of gay marriage — as controversial as it is — just didn't merit the highest judges in the land. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told NPR soon after:

When there’s no disagreement among the courts of appeals we don’t step in. ... If there had been a court of appeals on the other side, we probably would have taken that case.
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This is precisely the situation the court has now, thanks to Thursday's decision. Sure, the full 6th Circuit could take up the issue, but that court is made up of GOP appointees, and seeing as SCOTUS finally has a reason to step in, there's no reason to wait. According to the AP, lawyers on both sides of the case have promised to move things along, and fast. Said Chase Strangio, staff attorney in the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, in a statement:

We believe it’s wholly unconstitutional to deny same sex couples and their families access to the rights and respect that all other families receive. We will be filing for Supreme Court review right away and hope that through this deeply disappointing ruling we will be able to bring a uniform rule of equality to the entire country.
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The burning question for anyone invested in seeing the country finally join the 21st century in earnest is: when will SCOTUS make a decision? Frustratingly, we won't know for sure until the court actually decides to take it up. If they decide to take on marriage equality in this term — which means choosing to do so by mid-January — we can expect a SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage by this June. If they can't make up their minds, or lawyers don't take it to them quickly enough, or for whatever other reason they choose to postpone hearing the case until next term, we're looking at a a long wait: over a year and a half from now, til June 2016.

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Whichever year it comes, that summer will be a landmark, one which will hopefully see gay rights finally applied across the country — because only the Supreme Court has the power to do that. So as tragic as yesterday's four-state gay marriage ban felt, it may have finally pushed gay equality towards the finish line. In fact, the dissenting judge, Martha Craig Daugherty, has even suggested that might have been the majority judges' plan all along:

Because the correct result is so obvious, one is tempted to speculate that the majority has purposefully taken the contrary position to create the circuit split regarding the legality of same-sex marriage that could prompt a grant of certiorari by the Supreme Court and an end to the uncertainty of status and the interstate chaos that the current discrepancy in state laws threatens.

Amen to that.

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