History was made at the United States Supreme Court today as the highest court in the land ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to legally marry, in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. In doing so, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that states cannot ban same-sex marriage.
The majority holding stated that the 14th Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex. The decision reverses a November 2014 ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, which upheld same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. This decision also resolved the question of whether states can prohibit same-sex marriages, but still be required to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Because the court ruled that each state is constitutionally required to allow same-sex couples to marry, the question of recognition becomes a non-issue.
The Court held both that marriage is a fundamental constitutional right and that denying it to same-sex couples violates the Constitution’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws.” The latter holding is likely to make it even harder for governments to discriminate against gays and lesbians in any context, not just marriage.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, saying, “[T]he reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.” The majority bases its conclusion that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right on “four principles and traditions”: (1) right to person choice in marriage is “inherent in the concept of individual autonomy”; (2) “two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals”; (3) marriage safeguards children and families; (4) marriage is a keystone to our social order. Justices Roberts, Thomas, Scalia and Alito dissented in separate opinions addressing matters including federalism concerns and the rights of the states to regulate marriage.
It is also important to note that this decision did not designate LGBT people as a protected class under which “strict scrutiny” review is required.
The case is formally titled as James Obergefell, et al., Petitioners v. Richard Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al. The Court’s decision can be found at http://www.suffolkdivorcelawyer.com/wp-content/uploads/Obergefell-Same-sex-marriage-decision.pdf