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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: SCOTUS not hearing cases this term on marriage rights, LGBTQ advocates should be pleased

    Marriage-equality supporters have reason to celebrate during this year’s Coming Out Week: The Supreme Court will not be hearing cases this term on marriage rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals.

    Read the opposing argument: SCOTUS decision to leave marriage rights to states respects federalism

    On Oct. 6, the Supreme Court declined to rule on appeals from five states in which same-sex marriage bans have been struck down by federal appellate courts. The appellate court rulings are now the highest existing decisions on the question of marriage and will go into effect, but there’s still no national resolution for LGBTQ couples and their families.

    Immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals “struck down the Idaho and Nevada bans on same-sex marriage as violations of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution,” said Toni M. Massaro, a regents’ professor in the James E. Rogers College of Law.

    Because Justice Anthony Kennedy allowed the 9th Circuit decision to stand in Idaho, “same-sex marriage in Arizona is merely a matter of time, as the relevant government actors get the green light to obey the ruling,” Massaro said.

    The Supreme Court was immediately attacked for failing to take swift and decisive action in regards to marriage rights, but in truth, the justices’ inaction is a win for the LGBTQ-right movement.

    While it is easy to condemn the Supreme Court for passing up an opportunity to uphold marriage equality as a fundamental right, leaving the issue to the states — at least for now — may be the most effective way to advance the cause on a national scale.

    Let’s not forget the Supreme Court’s recent spate of shameful decisions. It placed women’s health at the mercy of corporate America in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, it undermined equal access to the polls by overturning the central provision of the Voting Rights Act and it made a mockery of the campaign finance system with the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. Putting the fate of an issue as important as marriage rights in the hands of such an unpredictable court would by no means guarantee a victory for marriage-rights activists.

    Furthermore, as a result of the Supreme Court’s non-ruling, same-sex marriage went from being legal in 19 states on Oct. 6 to potentially 30 today. If the decision is applied in all of the states within the affected appellate courts’ jurisdictions, that number will reach 35 before the dust has settled. Before long, there will be thousands of legally married same-sex couples in the U.S., which will create obstacles for the Supreme Court should it attempt to rule against marriage rights in the future.

    “Waiting means more same-sex couples will get married,” Massaro said. “And as a practical matter, that itself will tend to resolve the issue in favor of same-sex marriage without further Supreme Court action. It will be impossible for the Court to decide in a way that would ‘unmarry’ these couples, and a marriage patchwork across the [U.S.] poses quite complex and serious legal and normative questions for same-sex couples and their children.”

    Avoiding the issue of marriage rights clearly does not constitute a solution. Ultimately, the Supreme Court should issue a clear ruling that establishes marriage as a basic right for all Americans. But it is better to wait for a case that lends itself to a favorable ruling than to risk suffering a crippling blow to marriage rights at the hands of an ideologically divided Supreme Court.


    Elizabeth Hannah is a neuroscience & cognitive science sophomore. Follow her on Twitter.

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