US Supreme Court Strikes Down Same-Sex Marriage Bans Nationwide
In the mid-morning hours on Friday 24 June 2015, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) declared unequivocally in its 5–4 ruling over Obergfell v. Hodges that marriage is a Constitutionally protected right. The case comes from four states—Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee—where 14 same-sex couples and two men with now-deceased partners sought the right to marry or have their otherwise-lawful marriage recognized. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said:
… same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage. This harm results in more than just material burdens. Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society. Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest.
Prior to this ruling, 37 states, the District of Columbia, and the Territory of Guam already recognized and solemnified marriages between members of the same sex. At the time of print, all but two states (Kansas, & Louisiana) and two territories (American Samoa & Northern Mariana Islands) have come into compliance with the ruling. The Governor of the Territory of Puerto Rico issued an executive order mandating compliance with the ruling within 15 days; the Territorial government is expected to start issuing marriage licenses some time in July.
Same-sex marriages have met a troubled history in the United States; the conservative control of State legislatures across the nation in the mid-2000s led to an overwhelming majority of states enacting statutory or state-level constitutional bans of same-sex marriage. Additionally, the United States declined to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other countries. Thus began a long process of legislation and litigation that would establish that discrimination in marriage—despite extant policies of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation—was unconstitutional. Three landmark decisions from SCOTUS defined this process:
- Lawrence v. Texas, which determined in 2003 that laws criminalizing sex acts between consenting adults of the same sex were unconstitutional;
- US v. Windsor, which struck down key provisions in the federal Defense of Marriage Act that allowed the government to decline to recognize same-sex unions; and
- Hollingsworth v. Perry, which ruled that a third party could not appeal a ruling where a state had declined to do so.
These cases were cited extensively throughout Obergfell in justifying the Court’s majority opinion.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the dissent, stating:
Petitioners make strong arguments rooted in social policy and considerations of fairness. They contend that same-sex couples should be allowed to affirm their love and commitment through marriage, just like opposite-sex couples. That position has undeniable appeal; over the past six years, voters and legislators in eleven States and the District of Columbia have revised their laws to allow marriage between two people of the same sex.
But this Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be. The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise “neither force nor will but merely judgment.”
Nevertheless, Justice Kennedy ends his majority ruling with a statement that epitomizes the movement for inclusive marriage:
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. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.
It is so ordered.
The Pirate movement has long been about individual liberty—the fight surrounding Net Neutrality has certainly evinced this attitude. There can be no doubt that Pirates across the nation are celebrating this news.
Featured image: Ted Eytan, MD CC BY-SA 2.0 (Supporters outside the Supreme Court awaiting the ruling.)