By a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court Friday struck down four state marriage laws, paving the way for gay marriage to be legal in all 50 states.
The ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges said the 14th Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between people of same-sex, and also recognize same-sex marriages from out of state.
The 14th Amendment, with its equal protection and due process clauses, prohibit the “unjustified infringement of the fundamental right to marry,” said the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“No union is more profound than marriage,” Justice Kennedy added.
The stories of the people asking for the right to marry “reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memory, joined by its bond,” Kennedy continued.
Chief Justice John Roberts read his dissent from the bench — a first according to a legal veteran with SCOTUSblog — and said that while gay-rights victors should celebrate the ruling, “do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”
“This court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us,” the chief justice wrote in opposition.
Justice Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito also dissented.
Justice Scalia seethed in his dissent:
“Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact — and the furthest extension one can even imagine — of the Court’s claimed power to create ‘liberties’ that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention.
“This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves,” Scalia wrote.
According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, there are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States.
Gay and lesbian couples already could marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The court’s 5-4 ruling means the remaining 14 states, in the South and Midwest, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.
Gay marriages are already underway in states where they were banned until the Supreme Court ruling Friday.
Several gay couples have received marriage licenses in Atlanta since the decision came out. One of those couples, Petrina Bloodworth and Emma Foulkes, were wed in a morning ceremony and are the first same-sex couple to be married in Georgia’s Fulton County. So says court clerk James Brock.
In Travis County, Texas, Gena Dawson and Charlotte Rutherford were the first same-sex couple in the state to receive a marriage license, within two hours of the ruling.
As well, a same-sex marriage license has been issued in Arkansas, another state that banned gay marriage until the Supreme Court weighed in. This was in Faulkner County, almost immediately after the ruling came out.
“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,” said lead plaintiff James Obergefell, who sought to have his marriage recognized in Ohio.
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 Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Ryan Anderson, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, lamented the ruling.
“Today is a significant setback for all Americans who believe in the Constitution, rule of law, democratic self-government, and marriage as a union of one man and one woman,” said Mr. Anderson. “The court got it wrong: it should have not mandated all 50 states to redefine marriage.”
Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage said he and his allies would do all they can to reverse the ruling.
“Though expected, today’s decision is completely illegitimate. We reject it and so will the American people,” he said.
— This story was based in part on Associated Press material