Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of all seven petitions that resulted from opposition to state bans on same-sex marriage. The court’s orders carried specific significance because they permitted the lower courts’ decisions to stand, invalidating the same-sex marriage bans in Virginia, Oklahoma, Indiana, Wisconsin and Utah. By refusing to reconsider the rulings, the court also effectively legalized same-sex marriage in six additional states overseen by the respective federal circuit courts of appeals.

The additions of North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming will mean that a majority of the states, either through legislative action or judicial decree, will now allow same-sex marriage.

According to a comprehensive Gallup poll from May of this year, 55 percent of Americans support legally recognizing same-sex marriages, up from 27 percent in 1996. While current support for same-sex marriage is far from unanimous, the long-term trajectory for proponents of traditional marriage seems bleak with 78 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds supporting same-sex marriage.

The court’s actions also set up the issue as a potential political football this election cycle and the next in 2016.

Democratic leadership, generally more supportive of same-sex marriage, might be initially tempted to highlight the issue in hopes of sparking a larger national trend. At the same time, raising the flag on same-sex marriage before the November elections could have negative repercussions on critical Senate races in more moderate to conservative states.

The decision simultaneously pushes Republicans into a potentially critical juncture that could pull the party into a fight to set its position on same-sex marriage. Two immediate reactions mark radically different paths by thought leaders from the right who have fought to defend traditional marriage.

Sen. Ted Cruz called the move “both tragic and indefensible” and pledged to introduce a constitutional amendment “to prevent the federal government or the courts from attacking or striking down state marriage laws.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took a decidedly different tenor. “For us, it’s over in Wisconsin,” said Walker regarding his state’s same-sex marriage ban. “Others will have to talk about the federal level.”

House Speaker John Boehner has taken yet another track by honoring his commitment to raise funds for gay GOP candidates and highlighting their political accomplishments and fiscal responsibility, rather than tackling the subject of same-sex marriage directly.

While the nation remains divided on the issue, the Supreme Court’s intentional inaction has changed the landscape for same-sex marriage. The coming weeks will provide significant insight into the political impact of the decision and how Democrats and Republicans plan to resolve intra-party and even generational splits on the matter.

More importantly, decisions by the remaining federal circuit appellate courts will likely determine when and if the Supreme Court ultimately elects to decide the issue at the national level.

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