On Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear any of the seven cases pending before them regarding same-sex marriage, allowing lower court rulings that overturned statewide bans to stand. The Supreme Court took the action without a guiding opinion, which surprised legal scholars who thought that the Supreme Court would weight in one way or another. However, notwithstanding the court’s silence, the consequences for the country, and for Alaska, are huge. Most immediately, it means that same-sex couples in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming will be able to marry immediately or in the near future. In all of these cases, the federal court of appeals for their respective circuits struck down bans—like Alaska’s constitutional ban–that have prohibited them to marry.
Alaska belongs to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which also covers Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and Nevada. Currently, the court has two gay marriage cases in front of it—one from Idaho and one from Nevada. It’s likely to decide on those cases soon, and watchers of the Ninth Circuit predict that the court will rule in favor of gay marriage. The decision could get appealed, but there’s no reason to believe that the Supreme Court would overturn the Ninth Circuit’s decision when it didn’t overturn the other circuits’ decisions. If it did so, mass confusion and chaos would ensue, something that the Supreme Court tends to avoid.
On Friday, a challenge to Alaska’s gay marriage ban will be heard in front of a federal district judge in Anchorage at 1 p.m. The judge, Tim Burgess, might wait before issuing a decision until the Ninth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Alaska federal courts, decides its two cases. Or Burgess, a fair and impartial judge by most accounts, including my own, might want to issue his own decision for the historical record.
In any case, there’s little doubt that Alaska, and many of the rest of the states, will soon see their bans against same sex marriage overturned.
As David Codell, the constitutional litigation director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and co-counsel in the Utah case, put it in Slate:
It seems inconceivable that the Supreme Court would permit marriages to go forward in the five states at issue if the justices had any inclination ultimately to rule that same-sex couples do not have a constitutional right to marry. Today is one of the greatest days in the history of LGBT rights in the United States. It is very rare for the Supreme Court to deny review when a state constitutional amendment is struck down.
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