On Wednesday, the Court stayed a 4th Circuit ruling that in July struck down Virginia’s gay marriage ban. North Carolina falls under the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction, meaning the ruling would apply to any challenges of its constitutional ban.
The Court’s decision means a lower court’s ruling that allowed gay marriage is on hold until the Supreme Court upholds or overturns the ruling.
If the Court decides to hear a gay marriage case in the 2014-15 term, justices would have to make all decisions for that term by the end of June .
“Things seem to be lining up for (the Supreme Court) to see a case this term,” said Maxine Eichner, a UNC law professor. .
If the Supreme Court had not put the 4th Circuit’s ruling on hold, the four North Carolina district court cases targeting the state’s ban would have claimed the decision as a precedent, said Eichner.
That legal action would likely have overturned North Carolina’s ban on gay marriage, which was passed in 2012.
“This is an important development,” said Eichner. “It means we are waiting longer.”
Mike Meno, spokesman for the N.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ACLU, which filed the first two North Carolina suits, will continue to push for rulings in their cases despite the Supreme Court’s action.
“We’re representing families who need marriage recognition today,” said Meno. “They have children with whom they need legal relationships with. They have spouses who have braved health conditions, and they need the certainty and dignity and legal security that comes with marriage.”
North Carolina’s same-sex lawsuits were not directly affected by the Supreme Court’s delay because the cases were still in the district courts.
But the Supreme Court’s action signals that the nationwide battle for same-sex marriage rights might soon reach a decisive moment, if the Court hears the case in the 2014-15 term.
Eichner said if the Supreme Court hears the case, it could rule that the federal Equal Protection Clause prevents bans on same-sex marriage.
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality N.C., said the direction the fight for gay marriage rights is headed is clear. He said a national poll released last Friday found that a majority of Americans favor legalizing gay marriage.
“That is just an incredible change from a decade ago,” Sgro said.