Marriage Equality and the U.S. Supreme Court:  What to Expect and When

By Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia

ACLUVAAs you undoubtedly know, on July 28, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled  that Virginia’s laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying and prohibiting the state from recognizing their out-of-state marriages are unconstitutional.  The ACLU of Virginia and our partners at the National ACLU, Lambda Legal, and Jenner & Block were privileged to represent a class of approximately 14,000 Virginia same-sex couples in that case.

The Fourth Circuit also denied the request of one of the clerks defending the case to stay its ruling – that is, to put it on hold – pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.  This was almost as exciting as the ruling itself, because it showed that the Fourth Circuit understands the urgency of the situation, that LGBT Virginians are grievously harmed every day they are prohibited from exercising their constitutional right to marry.

The Supreme Court quickly issued a stay of its own, however.  This means that same-sex couples will not be able to marry in Virginia until the Court reaches some resolution of the case.  When will this happen?

First, the Court has to decide which, if any, of the marriage cases it will hear during its 2014-15 Term.   In addition to the Fourth Circuit from Virginia, there are two cases from the Tenth Circuit (Utah and Oklahoma) and a case from the Seventh Circuit (Wisconsin and Indiana) currently pending in the Court.    The Court is scheduled to look at all of these cases during its first conference of the Term, on September 29, 2014.

The Court could announce as early as September 30 whether it will hear any of these four cases, but it’s likely that we will have to wait a bit longer.  Often, the Court puts off decisions on particular cases and considers them again at future conferences.   The Court may also want to wait until there are rulings in some of the other marriage cases that are now on appeal before it decides how to deal with them.   Throughout the fall, the Court will be having conferences on most Fridays and making announcements on most Mondays about the cases that it will hear.

We think it is extremely likely that the Court will choose to hear one or more of the marriage cases.  The Court would probably hear arguments in the cases sometime in the spring, and issue a ruling by June 30, 2015.   Those cases that the Court does not hear will probably be put on hold pending the Court’s ruling in the cases it does hear.   That means that regardless of whether the Virginia case is chosen, we will have an answer at the same time as everyone else.

The next nine months promise to be full of both excitement and apprehension.   On September 30, and on most Mondays after that, you can check which cases the Supreme Court has decided to hear on the Court’s website.    Another excellent resource for news and analysis about goings-on at the Supreme Court is SCOTUSblog.

Of course, it is always dangerous to predict what the Supreme Court will do – those nine Justices are full of surprises.   But we are optimistic, and we hope that next June will bring us one of the most memorable and historic days of our lives.

 

Thank you to Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Virginia, for writing this guest blog about marriage equality in Virginia.  You can keep up with the case by checking the ACLU of Virginia’s website and following them on Facebook  and Twitter

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