(Laura E. Davis) -- As the U.S. Supreme Court meets on Friday to consider whether to wade into the issue of gay marriage, the justices face a reality not even a month old: For the first time, voters have chosen to legalize same-sex nuptials.
The shift that took place on Election Day has energized gay marriage advocates, who believe the expressions of support for their cause in four states will influence the Supreme Court's decision making.
At a private conference on Friday, the justices will consider whether to hear several cases dealing with the rights of gay couples who are married, want to get married or are in domestic partnerships. They could announce as soon as Monday which, if any, of the cases they'll accept.
On Nov. 6, voters approved ballot measures that legalized gay marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington state and defeated a ballot measure in Minnesota that would have added an amendment to the state's Constitution banning same sex nuptials. It was a remarkable breakthrough for gay rights advocates, since until this year voters had rejected same-sex marriage in 32 states that held popular votes on the issue.
Advocates say such electoral victories are unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. The action will instead revert to legislative chambers and the courts, where all gay marriage victories were achieved prior to Election Day 2012.
"It's almost hard to find the right adjective to describe the monumental victory we had winning all four states," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, director of communication for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group. "Marriage equality nationwide is not a question of if but when. It's up to us to accelerate our efforts."
Activists are looking to state legislatures in Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island as the next places where the legalization of gay marriage or civil unions will be debated.
Right now, Oregon stands the best chance of being the next state to legalize gay marriage by popular vote, advocates say.
Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, said her group is aiming to make a decision early next year about whether to push for a ballot initiative in 2014 that would overturn the state's constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, which passed in 2004.
"It's still very, very difficult to win a ballot measure," Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, said.