(Reuters) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the hotly contested issue of gay marriage, a surprise move that will allow gay men and women to marry in five states where same-sex weddings were previously banned.
By rejecting appeals in cases involving Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana, the court left intact lower-court rulings that struck down bans in those states.
Other states under the jurisdiction of appeals courts that struck down the bans will also be affected, meaning the number of states with gay marriage is likely to quickly jump from 19 to 30.
The other states would be North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina, Wyoming, Kansas and Colorado.
The high court’s decision not to hear the cases was unexpected because most legal experts believed it would want to weigh in on a question of national importance that focuses on whether the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment under the law means gay marriage bans were unlawful.
The issue could still return to the court, but the message sent by the court in declining to hear the matter would be a boost to gay marriage advocates involved in similar litigation in states that still have bans on the books.