U.S. Supreme Court Recognizes Constitutional Right to Same-Sex Marriage

Posted in: Civil Rights

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down one of the most highly anticipated decisions of the term. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, which held:

  1. The Constitution requires that all states perform same-sex marriages.
  2. A state cannot refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another state on the ground of its same-sex character.

The case, Obergefell v. Hodges, was actually four cases consolidated into one for the purposes of argument and decision.

Verdict columnists have written about these cases in nearly every stage of litigation and appeal:

Two years ago, Justice Kennedy authored the 5–4 majority opinion in United States v. Windsor striking down the provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage, for purposes of federal law, as a union between a man and a woman only. Justice Kennedy also authored the majority opinion in the seminal 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, which held that the Due Process Clause of the Constitution protects private sexual intimacy between consenting adults, regardless of their sex. And even before that case, in 1996 Justice Kennedy authored the majority opinion in Romer v. Evans, in which the Court held unconstitutional a Colorado referendum prohibiting any type of legal protections for individuals on the basis of sexual orientation. A somewhat unlikely champion of gay rights, Justice Kennedy has been the center of attention among those who sought to predict the outcome of Obergefell.

Unlike in Windsor, where proponents of federalism (of whom Justice Kennedy is one) and proponents of gay rights (of whom Justice Kennedy would seem to be one, given his role in the seminal gay rights cases) were aligned in the outcome they sought, Obergefell ostensibly pitted one group against the other. The Court’s powerful language clearly articulates what it found more persuasive:

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.

Predictably, Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito each filed their own written dissent decrying the majority’s holding and warning of the dangers of supposedly departing from the Constitution.

But today, much of the nation celebrates that we are more equal.