In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that states cannot ban same-sex marriages.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy — long assumed to be the court’s swing vote in favor — confirmed that the constitution mandates that states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in all 50 states. (Read the full opinion here.)
“From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage,” Kennedy wrote. “Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.”
“It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality,” he continued, adding that “against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry works a grave and continuing harm. The imposition of this disability on gays and lesbians serves to disrespect and subordinate them. And the Equal Protection Clause, like the Due Process Clause, prohibits this unjustified infringement of the fundamental right to marry.”
Kennedy’s last portion is perhaps his most profound:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.
“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
All four conservative justices, Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas, wrote dissenting opinions. Chief Justice Roberts argued that the issue was one for the states to decide, not the Court.
“If you are among the many Americans – of whatever sexual orientation – who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” he wrote. “Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not Celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it…. Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”
Support for the Court’s decision has already started to filter through from politicians and LGBT rights groups.
Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else. #LoveWins
— President Obama (@POTUS) June 26, 2015
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 26, 2015
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) June 26, 2015
America’s continuing journey toward a more perfect union just took another very important step. #SCOTUSMarriage
— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) June 26, 2015
Jim Obergefell, a named plaintiff in the case, issued a statement in reaction to the court’s ruling:
“Today I could not be prouder of my country, more grateful for the memory of my late husband John, and more indebted to the incredible lawyers, advocates and fellow plaintiffs who made this landmark day possible,” he said. “The fact that the state I have long called home will finally recognize my marriage to the man I honored and cherished for more than 20 years is a profound vindication—a victory I’m proud to share with countless more couples across the country.
“Thanks to the Supreme Court, a period of deep injustice in this nation is coming to a close, but it’s also clear today that there is still so much work to do,” he continued. “As long as discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is tolerated — whether in the seeking of a marriage license, the pursuit of fairness on the job, or the fight for equal treatment at a restaurant or business — we haven’t truly guaranteed equal justice under the law. But today’s victory proves that anything is possible, and I could not be more hopeful about the capacity of this country to change for the better.”
“All marriages, at their root, are about love,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that simple proposition—supported by a majority of Americans and a majority of our states—by recognizing that men marrying men and women marrying women are guaranteed the same civil rights and equal protection under our Constitution afforded to Jill and me, and to anyone else.
“We couldn’t be prouder,” he continued. “Over the years—in their homes, on our staff, on the frontlines of war, and in houses of worship—Jill and I have befriended countless gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans who share a love for their partners constrained only by social stigma and discriminatory laws. But today, their love is set free with the right to marry and the recognition of that marriage throughout the country.”
“Today’s ruling makes perfectly clear that there is no legal or moral justification for standing in the path of marriage equality. Couples from Mississippi to North Dakota to Texas shouldn’t have to wait even a moment longer to be treated equally under the law,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. “State officials across the country must act swiftly to ensure that every obstacle to obtaining a marriage license is removed. To do anything less is a shameful attempt to cement their state on the wrong side of history.”
“The U.S. Supreme Court has finally ruled that gender can no longer be used to prevent couples from marrying bringing immeasurable stability to families with transgender spouses,” National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling said. “The National Center for Transgender Equality welcomes this ruling and acknowledges that our path to equality cannot stop here. The LGBT movement must continue our work toward the legal recognition of all kinds of families while recommitting ourselves to racial, social, and economic justice for all Americans.”
“The Supreme Court today welcomed same-sex couples fully into the American family,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project. “Gay and lesbian couples and our families may be at peace knowing that our simple request to be treated like everyone else – that is, to be able to participate in the dignity of marriage – has finally been granted.”
“Today, love prevailed and our nation became a more perfect union by affirming that all people are indeed created equal and justice belongs to everyone,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD. “With this decision, loving and committed same-sex couples can finally rest knowing their families are protected and their dignity is no longer up for public debate.”
“What a great day for our country! With today’s historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling, marriage equality for the LGBT community is now enshrined in our Constitution,” said Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen. “Earlier lower-court decisions reaching the same result helped propel a positive change in public attitudes. We hope this ruling will do the same – because we still have a lot of work to do, particularly in the Deep South, where old attitudes are most slow to change.”
“This transformative triumph is a momentous victory for freedom, equality, inclusion, and above all, love,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. “For the first time in our nation’s history, ALL loving and committed couples will have the freedom to say, ‘I do.'”
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