On Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court lifted an earlier stay halting gay marriages in Idaho. Justice Anthony Kennedy had issued the stay after the 9th Circuit struck down that state’s gay marriage ban on Tuesday. The court’s reversal of the order means that gay marriages can proceed in Idaho immediately.
It’s not altogether clear why the court decided to lift the stay, but the move certainly suggests that the justices are eager to avoid the gay marriage question for as long as possible. Technically, the court’s refusal to grant a stay doesn’t reflect a judgment call on the merits of the law in question. But in reality, the decision hints that the justices are content to let the 9th Circuit’s ruling stand, since the inevitable flood of marriages will be difficult to halt or invalidate. Thus far this term, the court has refused to hear a single gay marriage case. If Friday’s order is any indication, the justices will continue to sit on their hands for the foreseeable future.
One particularly notable feature about the terse order is that it wasn’t issued by Kennedy alone; every single justice agreed to let gay marriages proceed in Idaho. That doesn’t mean that the Windsor dissenters have come around to the constitutional argument for gay marriage. Rather, it indicates that all the justices, even the conservatives, are happy to let the lower courts sort this mess out on their own. So far, that strategy has brought a fair amount of chaos. But it’s also brought marriage equality to at least nine (and theoretically 13) new states in a single week. Even if the means of the court’s strategy are questionable, then, the end results are pretty hard to quibble with.