The Supreme Court may be willing to give same-sex couples equal standing in the eyes of the federal government, but it isn't ready to intervene on their behalf at the state level.
A day after overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits, the court declined to take two cases dealing with gay and lesbian couples in Arizona and Nevada.
Both cases resemble a case the court ruled on yesterday regarding California's Proposition 8. That voter initiative produced a ban on same-sex marriage that was overturned by a lower federal court.
In its ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court didn't make a broad ruling on the constitutionality of Prop. 8 or state laws regarding same-sex marriage, but decided the case on procedural grounds.
"It's pretty clear (the justices) were reluctant to rule on Propistion 8 nationally in yesterday's ruling," says Professor Carl Tobias of University of Richmond Law School.
That reluctance could in part explain the court's decision to decline to hear the same-sex marriage cases in Arizona and Nevada.
In the Arizona case, Brewer v. Diaz, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer asked the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court's decision which negated an Arizona law preventing same-sex couples from receiving domestic partner benefits.
In the second case, Coalition for the Protection of Marriage v. Sevcik, the issue is more direct. In petitioning the court, the group asked whether the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which requires equal protection under the law, "requires Nevada to change its definition of marriage from the union of a man and a woman to the union of two persons."
Neither case will go before the Supreme Court, leaving states' policies regarding same-sex marriage untouched.
"It seems like a number of the (Supreme Court) justices were willing to let the states work through this issue either by their legislatures or state constitutions," Tobias says.
That stance leaves many of the questions raised by the court's ruling on same-sex marriage unanswered, he says. Twelve states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages.
"What will happen to same-sex couples in states that have a ban or a have a statute who want to claim those federal benefits?" says Tobias, bringing up Virginia, which has a constitutional provision banning same-sex marriage, as an example.
"If there's a military family -- a same-sex couple -- in Virginia, are they entitled to federal benefits? Or does somehow the Virginia policy in its constitution mean they cannot claim those benefits that they would have say in Massachusetts?"
Whatever the answer, as of now, the Supreme Court won't be giving one in its next term.