Here’s Why the Supreme Court’s 2013 Gay Marriage Ruling Created a Mess

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

The state of Idaho had its marriage ban overturned as of Tuesday, making it the most recent U.S. state to see its same-sex marriage legislation challenged successfully — pending an appeal, of course, as an appeal was filed before the decision was even announced. Idaho is just the latest reminder of how complex state rulings are becoming across the U.S. — and why the 2013 Supreme Court rulings may not have gone far enough to prevent a storm of legal complexities.

Idaho’s ban was struck down by U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Dale, who found the ban to be unconstitutional and ruled that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry as of 9 a.m. Friday, May 16. Dale calls the ruling a matter of minority rights, saying that, “Idaho’s marriage laws deny same-sex couples the economic, practical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of marriage, relegating each couple to a stigmatized, second-class status. Plaintiffs suffer these injuries not because they are unqualified to marry, to start a family, or grow old together, but because of who they are and whom they love.”

Idaho Governor Butch Otter was quick to file a stay, doing so prior to the ruling, in fact, demanding that no marriages be allowed until after the appeals were complete, and saying that, “In 2006, the people of Idaho exercised their fundamental right, reaffirming that marriage is the union of a man and a women.” He called the ruling a “small setback in a long battle that will end at the U.S. Supreme Court,” according to The Idaho Statesman.

With Idaho added to the list, only two states are left that have yet to challenge the ban — Montana and North Dakota. Every other state in the U.S. either has a pending case, has already challenged the ban, or has ruled in favor of allowing same-sex marriage. New Mexico, California, Washington, Minnesota, Iowa, New York, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, and Illinois all presently allow gay marriage, and the rest, with the exception of South Dakota where the ban’s challenge is pending, have challenged the ban, according to The Washington Post.

What makes the situation in the states more complicated — and what’s concerning Idaho’s governor at present — are all of those states and those couples who are in limbo during and after court rulings. The legality and specifics of many cases still pending becomes confusing when you look at it closely. For example, Lambda Legal reports that — as of Tuesday — there were 1,200 same-sex couples who married in Utah before the overturned marriage ban ruling was stayed, 300 couples in Michigan in a similar situation after the district court ruling was stayed, and that most of these marriages are being recognized at least on the federal level. There are states who have ruled that outside marriages must be recognized, in either a limited set of cases as in Ohio and Indiana, or in all cases, such as in Oregon where the marriage ban has yet to be decidedly overturned. Missouri and Wyoming partially recognize outside marriages for the purposes of state taxes and divorce, respectively, and of course there are those states that have civil unions or domestic partnerships in Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon, with limited domestic partnerships in Wisconsin.

The problems being seen in Michigan and Utah — regarding those couples who married soon after the ruling, only to have it stayed — is one that Governor Otter is expressing concerns about, calling it an “unmitigated disaster,” saying that, “Utah, it’s administrative agencies, its same-sex couples, and its citizens generally have been plunged into uncertainty, chaos, and confusion over the marital status of the same-sex couples who received marriage licenses in that state before the United States Supreme Court stepped in,” said Otter, according to The Idaho Statesman. As such, he’s asked that no same-sex marriages be allowed in the state of Idaho until the appeal process has come to an end, meaning that should his motion be passed, the Friday opening to couples hoping to tie the knot will be closed out.

While his position regarding same-sex marriage is disagreeable to the many couples and families who seek equal marriage rights under the law, his commentary on the need for a Supreme Court ruling is likely one that many gay marriage proponents would support. It would certainly clear up some of the mess and confusion being seen across states at present. Yes, the Supreme Court made strides in clarifying the law in both the Windsor and Hollingsworth cases; striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and ruling against Proposition 8 were major rulings. However, it’s arguable that further clarification, even if it’s not a blanket ruling on same-sex marriage, would make legal battles going on all over the U.S. more manageable and just for those fighting to gain their rights. Which begs the question: what cases could find there way to SCOTUS in the near future? Both Utah and Oklahoma have had April cases in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, making them good options.

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