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Supreme Court doesn’t act, so gay marriage expands

The landscape of gay marriage changed dramatically this morning. No, the Supreme Court didn't issue a major new ruling, but by deciding not to review any of the current cases on gay marriage it effectively made gay marriage legal in 11 new states — bringing the total to 30.

How come gay marriage expanded, if the justices aren’t reviewing it?

It has to do with the path these cases have followed. They all started in states with bans on gay marriage. Then:

• Lawyers and gay couples challenged those bans.

• Lower courts heard the challenges.

• Lower courts declared the bans unconstitutional (based on prior Supreme Court rulings).

• States asked that the rulings not be enforced until the Supreme Court weighed in.

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This morning, when the Supreme Court decided not to weigh in, those lower-court rulings finally took effect, overturning the state bans and legalizing gay marriage.

No. There are still plenty of states where gay marriage is illegal, and the Supreme Court could still choose to intervene later.

One reason the justices didn't get involved at this point is that the lower courts had all ruled the same way. If a future court decides instead to uphold a state ban on gay marriage, that would produce a situation where some states have the authority to ban gay marriage and others don't, which would give the Supreme Court a more pressing reason to intervene.


Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the United States. He can be reached at evan.horowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz