On Monday, October 6th, the United States Supreme Court rejected petitions from five separate states requesting that the Court make a final ruling on the issue of same-sex marriage in the United States. This decision is a victory for same-sex marriage advocates since the petitions were appealing five appeals court rulings upholding same-sex marriage in Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Utah, and Virginia. This rejection surprised many experts who were expecting the Court to take at least one of these cases, possibly to issue a final decision on same-sex marriage, especially since the Court had issued a stay preventing these marriages from going forward while it deliberated. With these petitions denied, marriages in these states can now go forward.
The Petition Process
The way this decision happened from a practical standpoint is affected by the process by which cases get to the Supreme Court. There are three levels of Federal courts, just like there are for courts in Illinois. The first level is the district court, where trials are held. Then, losing parties are automatically allowed to appeal to the second level, the circuit courts, which exists to watch over the district courts and correct mistakes. These courts are based geographically, which each court covering several states. For instance, Illinois sits in the Seventh Circuit, which covers Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Finally, there is the highest level, the Supreme Court. Unlike the circuit courts, to which parties automatically have access, the Supreme Court gets to choose which cases it takes. Parties file “petitions for certiorari” that ask the Court to review their case. Ordinarily, the Court chooses cases in which different circuit courts have ruled differently on the same issue, a condition known as a “circuit split.”
What This Means
This decision represents a victory for same-sex marriage advocates because in all five cases the circuit courts upheld people's right to same-sex marriage. Before this decision, 19 states, including Illinois, had legalized same-sex marriage. The court's rejection of these petitions pushes that number up to 30. This is because, in addition to the five petitioning states, the circuit courts' rulings also apply to all the other state's within their jurisdiction.
Court watchers think that the reason for the rejection is the lack of a circuit split. Thus far, every circuit court that has ruled on the issue of same-sex marriage has upheld it. The Court is likely waiting for a circuit court to oppose it before taking a case on same-sex marriage, especially in light of the recent decisions the Court has already made on the subject.
This decision represents just one of the many complexities that can arise in the area of family law. If you have questions about family law or divorce, contact a DuPage County family law attorney today.