The U.S. Supreme Court rejected calls for a nationwide ruling on same-sex marriage, a rebuff that lets gays marry in as many as 11 new states and leaves legal uncertainty elsewhere.

The denial today of seven pending appeals defied predictions. Advocates on both sides had urged the justices to resolve the issue following a wave of lower court rulings that the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex marriage rights.

“What is the Supreme Court waiting for?” said Evan Wolfson, president and founder of New York-based Freedom to Marry, one of the groups that urged the court to intervene and legalize same-sex marriage across the country.

The rejection lets decisions from three federal appeals courts take effect, legalizing same-sex marriage in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana. Six other states -- Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina -- will likely follow because they fall under the jurisdiction of those appellate courts.

In Wisconsin, Milwaukee County Clerk of Courts Joseph Czarnezki said his office would immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

“There is nothing preventing us from proceeding,” Czarnezki said.

The new states will bring the number of gay-marriage states to 30, plus the District of Columbia.

60 Percent

“In very short order we will see about 60 percent of the American people living in a freedom-to-marry state,” Wolfson said.

In other parts of the country, same-sex couples will have to wait for additional court rulings. Federal appeals courts based in San Francisco and Cincinnati have heard arguments on the issue and could rule any time.

The Supreme Court suggested support for gay marriage last year when it invalidated part of a federal law that denied benefits to legally married same-sex partners. That ruling led to dozens of victories for gay-marriage advocates in the lower courts, while building expectations that the Supreme Court would soon take the final step.

The Supreme Court accepts a case for review only if at least four of the nine justices vote to hear it. As is its usual practice, the court today didn’t say how the individual justices voted on the marriage appeals. The justices rejected the appeals as part of a list of orders released in Washington as they formally opened their 2014-15 term.

Justice Ginsburg

One of the few hints that the court might not be ready to take up same-sex marriage came last month from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Speaking at the University of Minnesota Law School, Ginsburg pointed to the absence of disagreement among the three federal appeals courts to have ruled on the issue.

She told the audience to watch for an expected ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Should that court also back gay marriage, there will be “no need for us to rush,” according to an Associated Press story at the time.

The Utah case is Herbert v. Kitchen, 14-124. The Oklahoma case is Smith v. Bishop, 14-136. The Indiana case is Bogan v. Baskin, 14-277. The Wisconsin case is Walker v. Wolf, 14-287. The Virginia cases are Rainey v. Bostic, 14-277; McQuigg v. Bostic, 14-251; and Schaefer v. Bostic, 14-225.