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The U.S. Supreme Court Makes History on Marriage Equality

Editor’s Note: Updated with citations from the justices and reactions from those in attendance.

After decades of struggle, marriage equality is now the law of the land. Millions of Americans have been waiting for our nation’s highest court to recognize marriage equality–and it just did in a 5-4 opinion, issued by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Ever since the tide turned sharply in 2013, when the Court found that the federal government had to recognize same-sex married couples under federal law, case after case pointed toward what seemed an inevitable national consensus–at least until the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a contrary decision, setting up a showdown at the Supreme Court.

via Flicker user Ted Eytan

The decision in Obergefell v. Hodges was announced to the cheers of hundreds who gathered on the Court’s steps. Writing for the majority, Kennedy’s words resonated with the import of the decision: “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. Here the marriage laws enforced by the respondents are in essence unequal: same-sex couples are denied all the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right. Especially 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.”

To recap, Obergefell v. Hodges comprises four consolidated cases from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee which pose the same essential questions: (1) are state bans on same-sex marriage constitutional and (2) if such bans are constitutional, are states that ban same-sex marriage required to recognize such marriages performed in other states.

In his eloquent majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy answered the first question with a resounding “no.” The Court’s four left-leaning Justices agreed with him that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to perform same-sex marriages. According to the Court, “[t]he nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.” The Court held that the right to marry is protected under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, stating that the right to marry is fundamental: as a result, marriage equality is now the law of the land in all fifty states.

Justice Kennedy is an unlikely champion for LGBT rights, having been appointed as a presumably “safe” conservative seat by President Ronald Reagan. For decades, Kennedy voted fairly consistently with his fellow conservatives, leading to an often fractured 5-4 majority on a number of key cases with far-reaching social and legal implications. But on the question of LGBT rights, Kennedy surprised nearly everyone with his first seminal opinion, Romer v. Evans, which struck down Colorado’s anti-gay Amendment 2 in 1996. Then nearly a decade later, Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, which ruled homosexual sodomy laws unconstitutional, flatly overturning the notorious case of Bowers v. Hardwick written just 17 years earlier.

But it was his opinion in United States v. Windsor, in which the Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), that set the stage for today’s historic ruling. Kennedy wrote in that case that DOMA imposed a “disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages.” In his dissent Scalia warned, “By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.” His dissent, ironically, was cited often by challengers to state laws restricting the right of marriage to just heterosexual couples.

While momentous, to many the Court’s decision comes as no great surprise. After all, as court watchers noted, the Court all but guaranteed a favorable outcome in February when, in an unprecedented move, the justices declined to stay a federal judge’s order that invalidated Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage. Moreover, traditionally conservative Ireland recently became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, and just last Friday, the Supreme Court of Mexico, a country that is more than 80% Catholic, legalized same-sex unions. On the question of human rights, Justice Kennedy is known to look not only to recent trends in U.S. law, but to the state of the law in other nations. But surprise or no, the Court’s decision today will go down in history as a capstone of one of the most significant civil rights movements in a generation.

Today, Justice Kennedy closed his opinion, and an era, with a particularly poignant thought:

“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 fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one civilization’s oldest institution. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Advocates have long insisted that the fight for marriage equality was never just about the right to marry; it was about basic human dignity. The story at the heart of the named case, Obergefell v. Hodges exemplifies that well. The facts of that case are compelling: Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, a couple for over twenty years, had flown from their home in Ohio to Maryland to get married, due to  Arthur’s rapidly failing health. Arthur had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and the swift progression of his disease heightened the couple’s sense of urgency to have their union recognized before Arthur passed away. The two were wed aboard a medical jet in Maryland in July of 2013; Arthur died a few months later. Despite the fact that Obergefell and Arthur had won the right to have Arthur’s death certificate reflect his true marital status, that decision was appealed by the State of Ohio—meaning that the death certificate could be rewritten to say that Arthur was single at the time of his death.

After today’s decision, couples like Obergefell and Arthur will never again have to face that kind of indignity at the hands of the state, nor will they have to endure the painful uncertainty of wondering whether their relationships will be recognized depending upon where they happen to live. Marriages in America will no longer be artificially bifurcated based on the sex of the participants. Love has always been love—but after today, marriage is also just marriage.

For a more indepth look at the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case, read this article: From Heartbreak to History: How One Gay Spouse’s Dying Wish Might Change the Law for All Time

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  • Amanda Fickett is an attorney and playwright living in Maine. When she is not out campaigning for social justice, Amanda can usually be found in her garden or paddling her kayak on the lake.

    • Show Comments

    • LittleLoki

      Things that make a witch cry out hallelujah!!!

      • Kimberly Ann Wetherbee

        witches that shout things from the bible in excitement. Interesting.

        • Alexandra

          Hey, it works!

        • cleanSooke

          Amazing how spelling matters.

          • Kimberly Ann Wetherbee

            ? what’s spelled wrong?

            • cleanSooke

              LOL, reading comprehension matters…on MY part. My dyslexia kicked in. I read, “things witch” *red face*

        • LittleLoki

          While I was being a smart ass, you do in fact get my point. Hallelujah is a word used for excitement or praise in many Abrahamic religions. Whereas “holy tap dancing Christ on a cracker” while used for excitement is not used by many folks.

          • Kimberly Ann Wetherbee

            ^.^

    • Christopher F.

      Well fought and well won.
      Congratulations, you did it!

    • Michael Corliss

      Now my 2 gay children have the same rights as my three straight children.

      As it should be.

      • Me, too. Tears of joy in this house. 🙂

      • Ceunei

        My gay friends that have been together longer with their partners than any of my nongay friends (including self) have been with theirs (married or not, most straights my age are on their second marriages (equally sanctimonious to the first marriage, I’m sure)) can now get married, too.

        I’m Gen X and I never thought I’d see this day so quickly come. Now to get back to work on a few other pesky problems. A good news day at last.

    • Alexandra

      John Arthur: sleep well. Jim took care of things down here.

    • AStano

      Amazing..”Marriages in America will no longer be artificially bifurcated based on
      the sex of the participants. Love has always been love—but after today,
      marriage is also just marriage.”

    • Hey David, where do you think they come from in the first place? A hole in the ground?

    • Kvark

      Then why do you care?

    • chynna

      BULLSHIT. Straight parents produce gay kids. MORON.

      Sexual orientation is determined in the first 16 weeks of gestation of a fetus. Sexual orientation is regulated by the epi-markers of the genes passed on by the parents to the fetus.

      Homosexual behavior is also found in every species on this planet. It is normal and natural in nature. There is no greater proof than that. Mother nature does not lie. But morons like you do to promote your own agenda of hate, bigotry, ignorance and religion.

      Apparently you have not heard of artificial insemination either. IDIOT.
      Homosexual can and do have kids!

      • JBTascam

        So if sexual orientation is a matter of nature – can we get a test for it? Can we abort based on the sexual orientation of the child? Can it be adjusted so that our child becomes the orientation we choose?

        • Larry Tarbox

          So if breathing is a matter of nature can we adjust it so we don’t have to?

        • Ara Jordan

          The simple answer is no.

          A more complicated answer: epi-markers indicate a genetic predisposition that can be affected by environment, essentially requiring a combination of nature and nurture to manifest. I.e. identical twins where one is gay and the other is straight. Epi-markers are smaller (not really accurate, but the best description I can come up with) and more difficult to isolate than other common genetic mutations like eye and hair color. We are barely getting to the point where we can talk hypothetically about pinpointing and MAYBE switching off some bad genes, like alcoholism, but we are decades, probably a solid century, away from being able to put that into common practice.

          So you can get yourself or your kids tested for the markers if you really want to (assuming you could even find someone who provides that as a service, which you really couldn’t, and assuming it isn’t super expensive, which it probably would be), and even then you’d only have half the puzzle. Less than half, actually, since bisexual people don’t always even have discernible markers.

        • Shella Fronzaglio

          I’m surprised we can’t abort over that when I live in a world where humans are ok with a heartbeat not counting as life because it’s inconvenient! The idea that a gay couple will have gay children is ludacris! Not all children from hetero couples are hetero…

        • CrissCross

          So homophobic you would kill your own gay child?
          Not too far removed from churches burning sodomites at the stake.
          Killing your unborn child because you dont like gays.
          Think on that.

    • Robert MacDonald

      About friggin time…

    • Erika

      Good job US!! I remember watching an American commercial (we live in Canada) that was warning parents about how schools are being open about same-sex relationships and that it was a disgrace. I cried thinking how scared I would be and how brave many Americans need to be to just be themselves. What an amazing step.

      • Dan Hutchinson

        yeah, for being a nation built from different cultures and backgrounds, us Americans tend to be fairly opposed to anything different, which is really hypocritical.

    • Harshit Arora
    • I have tears of happiness, now my oldest son has the same rights as my other two sons….Beautiful Day!! I have been praying for this for so long. <3

    • Tera Hamby

      In honor of this HISTORIC day! 15% off all pride items. LOVE CONQUERS ALL!

    • Nad Muthus

      Great day for the USA!!!

    • nechus

      Good for you, good people.
      Hopefully we will follow your steps.
      A big hug from Chile.

    • Kaoru La Kaoru

      About time, ‘murica!

    • Yzz86

      This is a big day! Specially since marriage has nothing to do with Religion and the basic state right to get married is more about the legal part.

    • Rúnar Guðni Pölluson

      I am thrilled by this decision, i knew it would happen but didn’t think it would be in my lifrtime. This is a great article and I mean no disrespect but I do believe Iceland was the first country in the world to legalize same sex marriage by popular vote.

      • Ara Jordan

        Nope, Iceland did it through a bill passed by the Icelandic Althing in 2010. Though greatly supported by popular opinion, it was still a bill voted on and passed by a parliment. Ireland is indeed the first country to do it through popular vote, where only the votes of the people, not politicians, were considered.

    • Andy Heppelle

      Congratulations to the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”

    • freemasonicplague

      this is sooooooooooooooooooooooooo gay!!!!!!!

    • freemasonicplague

      Flag for the fags!!!! JK have a gay day!!

    • Dennis White

      people have faith in America , and our beautiful system of government
      hard for powers of negativity to remember of by and for the people
      what a great day – equality for all

    • Dennis White

      Dennis White my wife if she had lived would have cheered from the the pulpit

    • Dennis White

      one for the people -= yes !

    • Alice DeGregori Morales

      Quite an eloquent opinion. I am extremely proud of our Supreme Court today. Though I have neither family nor close friends who are gay, the ruling touched me so deeply that I cried tears of joy. No class of persons should be treated as lesser than the rest. Bravo Justice Kennedy.

    • Tree

      I am so happy that I have lived long enough to see this! What a great day!

    • Bobbi Nicolai

      Today is my birthday. Best birthday present EVER!!!!!

    • Todd Bates

      I wasn’t sure I’d ever see this day and all I can say is HOORAY!!

    • stanleybeardslee

      They will have to appear before a higher court judgement day.

    • Merrie Lee Boudreaux Morrison

      Today I cried like a baby. Then cried in the arms of a gay friend temporarily living with me. This remarkable man endured 14 years in the Army to defend the rights he himself was denied under “don’t ask don’t tell ” which wasn’t repealed until he left service. For all of those in. My family of choice that have cried in my arms over the decades. To all military having to hide their TGBL status. To all who have been bullied and rejected by blood families and communities. To all who died for just being themselves. Thank you Judge Kennedy for upholding this right for all our citizens.

    • Nicole

      Most of these people quoting the Bible by cherry-picking passages from it and acting as if that’s justifies gay marriage opposition is absolute hypocrisy.
      “Here is a checklist of biblical proscriptions that opponents of gay marriage must ALSO embrace if they want to shed the tag of “hypocrite”:
      Gay men aren’t the only people who must pay the ultimate price for their allegedly ungodly transgressions. Leviticus 20:10 sternly asserts that if a married man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both must be immediately dispatched.
      Girls don’t escape biblical wrath, either. According to Deuteronomy 22:20-21, if a girl has the temerity to have sex before marriage, the men of her town must stone her to death at her father’s doorstep. Presumably, that could include one of the men who had caused her to lose her virginity in the first place.
      If a man kills a woman’s child, she cannot raise a peep of protest, because Timothy 2:12 forbids women from having any authority over men. If she forgets her place for a moment, she runs the risk of being branded a “sorceress,” and Exodus 22:18 commands that sorceresses not be allowed to live. And Judges 19:25-28 seems to condone tossing a woman out into the streets to be raped by a gang of men.
      The Bible doesn’t spare daughters, either. Judges 11:30-31 and 34-35 make it clear that a man may sacrifice his daughter to thank God for giving him a triumph. And it is not just daughters who can be slain in sacrifice. In Genesis 22:2 God commands Abraham to take his son Isaac to a mountaintop and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. And the child can’t protest his or her fate, because Leviticus 20:9 insists that talking back to a parent warrants the death penalty.
      The two groups that fare the best in the Bible are husbands and slave masters. Ephesians 5:22 says that the word of a man is law in his household and that his wife must obey him unquestioningly in whatever he says and does. And 1 Peter 2:13 and 18 asserts that slaves must serve their masters not only faithfully but in “reverence.” And this rule doesn’t apply just to slaves of “kind and charitable” slave masters but to slaves of lousy and brutal ones. But at least there’s a caveat: Leviticus 25:44-45 only permits the enslavement of foreigners.
      For most of you, the Bible is not simply taken on faith, but as the basis of moral conduct and even law. So if the Bible condones stoning non-virgins, taking slaves and slaying children in the name of God, then all of that should technically be okay too, right? Either live by ALL of the Bible or none of it. You can’t just pick and choose which passages apply and which don’t, which are true or literal and which aren’t. That is complete hypocrisy.

      • Louis Kalinggo

        God is not wrath. God is love. If you see the Bible as a law, there is
        no one who will be able to fulfill it. That’s where Jesus comes.
        You
        do good quoting the bible, have you read Hosea, the story of how God
        still loves his foolish adulterous ‘wife’? If such is the picture, shouldn’t the wives of physical realm should learn to humble
        themselves, instead of acting know-it-all? And there’s still a lot more
        to say about your quotations:
        1. Leviticus 20:10 & Deuteronomy
        22, is countered by Jesus in John 8:1-11, where he states if the sinless
        ones may be the first to stone the adulterer to death.
        2. Timothy
        2:12: aforementioned Hosea, but not only for women, but the men also,
        because ultimately the believers is the bride of Christ. And shouldn’t
        the husband must also love his wives, learning to reflect of how Christ
        died for his love?
        3. Judges 11:30-31 and 34-35 : The law of Moses,
        in Deutoronomy 18:10 clearly forbid the use children sacrifices as
        worship, and also it is within one of the Ten Commandments: ‘Thou shall
        not kill thy neighbor’. But Gideon puffed up and swear to God, much to
        his doom. The bible is depicting his error, not setting an example to
        follow. Plus, he could choose to shoulder the curse and seeking
        redemption from God if he is faithfully heroic enough, like David.
        4.
        It is not written in the bible that rebellious wives are sorceress. If
        the history says humans did say so in the past, then this generation
        should pray for atonement as we are inescapably their children.
        5.
        Genesis 22:2: but in the end He did stop Abraham, and latter reflect
        Abraham’s love for God and the obedience of Isaac into Jesus Christ.
        6.
        Ephesians 5:22 : Paul did complete the statement in verse 23. Which one
        comes first? The husband loves the wife first, or the wife heed the
        husband first? Well, the one who wants to be the first must make
        him/herself the last.
        7. Leviticus law about slavery: But what if the
        slaves can love their master, that the slaves choose to be slaves
        rather being a freeman (Exodus 21:5). God is actually instructing
        masters to be such an adorable master.

        About the main issue: How
        about homosexuals? People often said it is from the birth and nothing
        can be done about that, and it would be unrighteous to refrain them from
        creating sexual bond, since they have the drive. What to say about
        them, biblically? Well, reflect for yourselves in the front of Christ.
        He who is perfect is made utterly handicapped on the cross. How much it
        is compared to abstaining from sexual drive? So, what’s the reward in
        it? The reward is that you will be able to see Jesus and the extend of
        his love clearer day by day. Because love is not merely drive, but there
        is no greater love than a man willing to die for his friends. Love is
        kind, love is humble, it does not seek self-fulfillment. Any humans fit
        the criteria, if it is ever standardized? No. That’s why believers still
        need keep repenting and renew their joy in their hope of salvation. One
        of which we, believers, need to repent from is how we do not love the
        homosexuals enough, that they feel being oppressed and not accepted that
        they trade the divinely love for the sexually love, and that they force
        their way to the court so that they can be accepted, not (fully) aware
        of how Jesus has already accepted and love them, and willing to mold
        them. (For this one, I speak from believers’ extreme standpoint).

        I
        wrote this not to shove people down to the throat with my belief, nor
        condemning homosexuals. But I am trying to show the right angle to the
        faith, not seeing it as law, but a message of God’s love who always try
        to reach for fallen humans. People may say I belief in delusion (for
        truth can be searched for and revealed), but they should not say the God
        I belief in is not upright (thus keeping the heart abstain from
        goodness, for Christianity is all about good news of salvation).
        Lastly, I want to say that God is righteous, and his way is blameless.

    • sallyedelstein

      The fact that most American are ready to evolve and embrace gay marriage and gay rights is terrific and the swiftness of this shift is amazing. Not long ago the
      very notion of gay marriage was inconceivable if not downright frightening. In the early 1970s as gay rights became more vocal, pamphlets were produced filled with dire warnings of the dangers of homosexuality and the “coming revolution”
      invading the mainstream predicting an ominous future filled with gasp…gay marriage! Well the future they worried about is here, and we are all better for it !http://wp.me/p2qifI-2VF

    • Beth Vincent

      Yes. another historical moment …moving towards everyone having equal RIGHTS UNDER THE LAW.
      hope someday we will all practice it.

    • EthicalOne

      Rainbow flag wins again.
      Is good that equality becomes a right.

    • Joe

      Finally, they can quiet down and stop trying to throw it in everyones face! We can finally move on. Good news for all.

    • Brian J Bragdon

      http://teespring.com/keep-calm-equal-marriage-love – Freedom for Life for All. may not be reachable in a lifetime. However, We have a lifetime to try.

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