In 17 Words, Justice Clarence Thomas All But Declared Marriage Equality Inevitable

In 17 Words, Justice Clarence Thomas All But Declared Marriage Equality Inevitable
Source: AP
Source: AP

The Supreme Court may have already made up its mind on gay marriage. At least, that's what Justice Clarence Thomas seems to think. 

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to extend a stay on a federal court's decision that Alabama could no longer refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after its ban on gay marriage was overturned last month. If extended, the stay would have delayed gay marriages from taking place in Alabama until the justices hear oral arguments in April on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. LGBT couples began marrying in Alabama on Monday. 

Thomas, a member of the court's conservative wing, argued that refusing to extend the stay until the question of gay marriage was decided later this year was "indecorous" and "cavalier" in a three-page dissent also signed by fellow conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

But this is actually not as bad as it sounds. Here's the money quote from Thomas that has legal analysts in a tizzy:

This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court's intended resolution of that question.

Thomas isn't just furious because of the Alabama ruling. He's furious because, as far as he's concerned, the Supreme Court just signaled to the country that it will likely rule in favor of marriage equality.

Here's what that means, in plain(ish) English: Stays on rulings, like the one rejected in Alabama on Monday, are used to prevent unnecessary chaos during the legal appeal process while a higher court reviews and rejects a lower court's decision, allowing the status quo to stand until a completely final decision is reached. 

In this case, a stay would have prevented same-sex couples in Alabama from marrying until the Supreme Court finally answered the constitutional question it left unanswered in 2013's United States v. Windsor. 

If you recall, Windsor ruling threw out the federal ban on recognition of gay marriages instituted under the Defense of Marriage Act, but did not determine whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. 

In April, the Supreme Court will likely solve this lingering issue by ruling on appeals from the four states fighting to preserve gay marriage bans (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee).

If the Supreme Court decides in favor of those states later this year, then all of those Alabama gay marriage licenses would be worthless. Thomas knows the pro-equality wing of the court would find this morally reprehensible. Coupled with his strong wording, this strongly suggests that at least five justices have already decided they will rule in favor of marriage equality. Basically, Thomas is furious that the rest of the court is signaling they don't even need to hear the four states' arguments to rule on the case.

Gay and lesbian activist protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building on June 26, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Source: Douglas Graham/Getty Images

Why you should care: Thomas and Scalia apparently believe that regardless of how the other justices feel about same-sex marriage, they had a professional obligation to stay the decision until the states have their say before the court. It would appear that at least five other justices are apparently having none of that nonsense.

The message is pretty clear: Marriage equality is inevitable. Since same-sex marriage opponents already have lost virtually all of their defenses of same-sex marriages in court, Thomas' brief rage against the Alabama stay signals that the writing may be on the wall for discrimination against same-sex couples in the American legal system.

Alabama's Chief Justice Roy S. Moore is still fighting the federal decision to the death, claiming that the federal decision doesn't apply in state courts. But with the Supreme Court's refusal to extend the stay in the case, he's looking more than a bit like Gov. George Wallace did in 1963 when he resisted federally ordered integration of Alabama schools. Today too, it looks like bigotry's days are numbered.