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Same-sex marriage opponents in U.S. 'aren't waving a white flag'

10/11/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 12/10/2014 05:59 EST
Same-sex marriages were allowed to proceed in another five states in the U.S. on Monday thanks to the Supreme Court, buoying the argument that the tide is turning and inevitably same-sex marriages will be legal countrywide.

Indiana, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Virginia and Utah became the latest states to get the green light after the Supreme Court rejected hearing appeals from three lower courts. That denial meant their decisions — to overturn state bans on same-sex marriage — could stand.

It boosted the number of states that allow same-sex marriage to 24, plus the District of Columbia, and paved the way for another six states where bans are expected to be overturned in the coming weeks because they fall under the jurisdiction of the same three lower courts.

Advocates for gay marriage claimed victory, though some would have liked the Supreme Court to hear the cases, rule in their favour and impose the right for same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states.

Some described it as a watershed moment in the debate. There is no turning back now, given the signal the Supreme Court gave to lower courts and given that soon same-sex marriages are expected to be legal in a majority of states — or at least, that was the takeaway favoured by some.

Premature to say debate is over

Not so fast, say those opposed to letting same-sex couples tie the knot; the battle is not over.

"We aren't waving a white flag at this point," Julaine Appling, president of a group called Wisconsin Family Action, said in an interview. "It's premature to say that this is all over."

Portraying the Supreme Court's decision as a tacit approval of same-sex marriage isn't a fair interpretation and is "liberal spin" Appling said. There are court cases pending in a number of other states and those could go in favour of the bans. When appeals arrive once again at the Supreme Court, the justices could decide to weigh in, something they clearly weren't prepared to do this week.

"I believe that's a very real possibility, that they will weigh in," Appling said. "We don't believe it is appropriate to sound the death knell before the court has had the opportunity to consider those cases."

In the meantime, even though same-sex marriages can go ahead in her state of Wisconsin, Appling's group will continue "aggressively educating" people about the need for marriage to be between men and women only, she said.

Other opponents of same-sex marriage are also vowing to keep up the fight. Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, said the good news on Monday was that the Supreme Court didn't impose same-sex marriage countrywide.

"The fight continues," he said in an interview.

That fight is on two fronts: making the case that only men and women should marry and making the case that it should be up to citizens, not judges, to decide who can marry.

"I think not only will we continue to have a debate about marriage, but we will have an increasing debate about judges taking this role upon themselves," Sprigg said.

Same-sex marriages have largely been made legal in the U.S. through court decisions, not questions on a ballot, and Sprigg and others argue that's wrong. Millions of Americans have in fact voted to ban same-sex marriage in their states and the will of the people is being ignored by courts, they say.

Shifting public opinion

But what about all of those public opinion polls that show Americans are increasingly supportive of gay and lesbian couples saying "I do"?

Careful attention should be paid to wording, Sprigg suggested, because more people might indicate opposition to same-sex marriage if questions about it were phrased differently. 

Ryan Anderson, of the Heritage Foundation, explained in an interview that he thinks the trend towards gay marriage is largely happening because opponents of it haven't effectively communicated their arguments.

"I don't think that it's so much that the argument for the traditional understanding of marriage, the male-female relationship, has been heard and rejected as much as it just hasn't been heard," he said.

Some people have answered polls without really having wrestled personally with the issue, without having heard both sides of the debate, in his opinion.

Appling, in Wisconsin, thinks Americans aren't changing their minds about same-sex marriage as much as the polls indicate.

"Public opinion is not shifting nearly as people are portraying it. There are polls and surveys that have shown that people are beginning to understand how dramatic, how sweeping these changes would be if the redefinition and deconstruction of marriage did indeed go nationwide with one fell swoop of a gavel," she said.

On the other side of the debate, groups such as the National Center for Lesbian Rights, as well as  Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, say they will be fighting just as vigorously to strike down those laws.

"We are hopeful that the other cases pending across the country will also vindicate the freedom to marry so that all couples, no matter where they travel or live, will be treated as equal citizens and have the same basic security and protections for their families that other Americans enjoy," the NCLR said in a statement issued Monday.

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