Hell yes: the Supreme Court has struck down all federal bans on same-sex marriage. What a beautiful day for basic common sense, civil rights, and human dignity. The vote was 5-4.
The case was Obergefell v. Hodges, a group of consolidated cases that asked the justices to decide whether the Fourteenth Amendment required a state to issue a marriage license to two people of the same sex, and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when the license was issued in another state.
The link to the majority decision and the dissents — each of the four disseneters wrote their own dissent — is here. The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg, closes with a particularly beautiful passage on why we care about marriage as an institution, and why it should be open to everyone:
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.
The dissenters were, as you might expect, the more conservative justices: Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito.
In the dissenting opinion Roberts wrote that same-sex marriage is very nice and all, but that states should individually decide whether to accept it:
Although the policy arguments for extending marriage to same-sex couples may be compelling, the legal arguments for requiring such an extension are not. The fundamental right to marry does not include a right to make a State change its definition of marriage. And a State’s decision to maintain the meaning of marriage that has persisted in every culture throughout human history can hardly be called irrational. In short, our Constitution does not enact any one theory of marriage. The people of a State are free to expand marriage to include same-sex couples, or to retain the historic definition.
Roberts also used some, uh, pretty strong language to accuse the majority of hubris:
The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent. The majority expressly disclaims judicial “caution” and omits even a pretense of humility, openly relying on its desire to remake society according to its own “new insight” into the “nature of injustice.” Ante, at 11, 23. As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?
(The Supreme Court now apparently makes laws for the “Kalahari Bushmen and Aztecs,” rather than simply these United States. What a big day! So many changes!)
The lead plaintiff in the case, Jim Obergefell, told the Washington Blade he’d been in D.C. all week anxiously awaiting the ruling. Obergefell is a widower from Cincinnati; his husband John Arthur died in 2013 of Lou Gehrig’s disease. The couple were married in Maryland just a few months before Arthur died, but their home state of Ohio refused to recognize their marriage, depriving Obergefell of Social Security and disability benefits. However, he told ABC News, the dollar amount in question was tiny (around $255 a month in Social Security benefits).
“That was never our driving reason for doing this,” he told ABC News. “It was all about our dignity and the respect we expect from the state we call home.”
It’s a great day, albeit shamefully overdue. Although possibly someone should look in on the hugely dramatic Texas pastor who promised to literally light himself on fire if gay marriage was legalized.
This post has been updated with quotes from the opinion and dissents.
Carlos McKnight, 17, of Washington, left, and Katherine Nicole Struck, 25, of Frederick, Md., hold flags in support of gay marriage outside the Supreme Court, Friday June 26, 2015. Photo via AP Images