As the Supreme Court begins its new term this week, pro-life advocates hold a prayer vigil on the plaza of the High Court in Washington, Oct. 4, 2014.
As the Supreme Court begins its new term this week, pro-life advocates hold a prayer vigil on the plaza of the High Court in Washington, Oct. 4, 2014.
As the Supreme Court begins its new term this week, pro-life advocates hold a prayer vigil on the plaza of the High Court in Washington, Oct. 4, 2014.

The U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for more states to allow same sex marriage by declining to hear appeals on the matter.

In a surprise move Monday, the top court decided not to hear appeals to rulings by lower courts to reinstate gay marriage bans in five states.

The move paves the way for gay and lesbian unions to proceed in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, bringing the number of states allowing gay marriage to 30. Twenty other states prohibit same sex marriage.

The Supreme Court justices did not explain why they are not taking up the issue.

The decision brought mixed reviews from gay rights activists, many of whom wanted the court to provide a definitive ruling that covers all states.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who backs gay marriage, said the state will immediately start issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

“A new day has dawned and the rights guaranteed by our constitution are shining through. All Virginians have the constitutional right to be treated fairly and equally, to have loving, committed relationships recognized and respected, and to enjoy the blessings of married life,” said Herring.

A White House spokesman says a majority of Americans recognize that same sex couples deserve fair treatment under the law. Spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment specifically on the Supreme Court’s decision, but said U.S. President Barack Obama believes gay marriage should be the law of the land.

State officials who defend gay marriage bans say the Constitution does not dictate how states should define marriage and say there is no legal tradition that supports a right to gay marriage.

Just more than a year ago, the Supreme Court ruled to strike down a federal law that restricted the definition of marriage to heterosexual couples for the purpose of federal government benefits.

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