On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to decide on whether all fifty states must allow same-sex marriage before the current term ends in June.
The announcement comes months after the justices avoided the issue. In October, the Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from rulings allowing gay marriage in five states. That decision immediately expanded the number of states allowing same-sex marriage to 24, according to the New York Times.
The number of states allowing gay marriage has since increased to 36, in large part due to the court’s decision not to act last year. More than 70% of Americans now live in a state that allows same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases brought by 15 same-sex couples in Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan. The court will decide whether states have the right to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses and whether they have the right to refuse to recognize gay marriages legally performed in other states, according to NBC News.
[quote text_size=”small” author=”– Jon W. Davidson” author_title=”Legal director for Lambda Legal”]
We are finally within sight of the day when same-sex couples across the country will be able to share equally in the joys, protections and responsibilities of marriage.
Plaintiffs argue they have the fundamental right to marry and be treated the same as other couples, saying the bans are demeaning, impose difficulties and inflict harm on their children without need.
The decision to hear the cases is largely due to the fact that lower courts are now in disagreement. Several lower court rulings following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision, striking down gay marriage bans in many states. Courts have upheld bans in four states, and the Supreme Court will now resolve the split.
The Supreme Court has been reticent about taking up the issue, and the current justices have rarely written on the merits of the issue, aside from the 2013 decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The justices have given some indication of their views on the issue, however.
Justice Elena Kagan, who officiated a same-sex wedding in Maryland last year, is clear about which side she takes on the issue. Several conservatives, including Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Samuel Alito, have said that the court should not rule on gay marriage but leave the decision to the states, according to TIME.
In 1996, a Gallup poll found just 27% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. The most recent poll, conducted last year, showed that the approval rating has increased dramatically to 55%.