(CNN) — The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for legal same-sex marriages in five more states.
The court refused to hear cases from the states — Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana — seeking to keep their same-sex marriage bans in place.
Couples in some of those states began applying for marriage licenses just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision.
CNN affiliate WVEC in Norfolk, Virginia, talked to a same-sex couple who rushed to fill out their marriage license documents. Officials in Virginia began issuing same-sex marriage licenses at 1 p.m. Monday. A similar order could be issued by day’s end for Indiana and Wisconsin.
The high court’s move also means that six more states — West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming — could soon have to lift their bans on same-sex marriage, because they are covered by the same circuit appeals courts that initially struck down the prohibitions.
Once that happens, the number of states permitting same-sex marriage would jump from 19 to 30.
At issue is whether gay and lesbian couples in all 50 states have the same equal protection or due process right to marry that opposite-sex couples have.
In Utah, just hours after word from the high court came down, Gov. Gary Herbert said at a press conference that he felt “surprised” and “disappointed” that there was no “finality” on the issue of same-sex marriage. The state would comply with Monday’s order, he said, and same-sex marriages would move forward.
“Regardless of your personal beliefs,” he urged, “… please treat each other with respect and with kindness as we transition through this new law.”
The court’s action does not mean there won’t eventually be a final ruling on the constitutional questions — many court observers fully expect a landmark decision in the next year or two — but it does signal the justices are not ready to jump into the politically charged debate right now.
The high court’s move surprised many observers. Advocates on both sides of the issue had wanted the court to offer a definitive, binding ruling on key constitutional questions.
“The question of whether same-sex marriage bans are constitutional is a historic issue, under the Constitution and for the Roberts Court,” said Thomas Goldstein, publisher of SCOTUSblog.com and a respected Washington attorney. “It’s hard to imagine a situation where judges are going to have more power to define the social and family relationships of the country.” He’s referring to Chief Justice John Roberts.