The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled in favor of marriage equality!
“The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.”
There it is, the ruling that gay-marriage advocates and opponents have been waiting for since April when the Court took up the case—but really, for years long before that. There is now a constitutional right for people of the same sex to get married in the United States.
In the Court’s opinion—authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic who has long been seen as the possible swing vote on gay marriage, joined by JusticesStephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, and with four separate dissents authored and joined by combinations of Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—lists four major reasons for its decision in Obergefell. First, Kennedy writes that “decisions about marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make.” Allowing LGBT people to marry is a matter of personal choice and autonomy, just as it was in the Court’s 1967 in the case Loving v. Virginia, which outlawed bans on interracial marriage.
Second, Kennedy writes, marriage is a distinctive institution: “It supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals.” Here, he points to the Court’s opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut, which affirmed the right of married couples to use birth control. “Same-sex couples have the same right as opposite-sex couples to enjoy intimate association.”
But then, the decision takes an interesting turn: The Court seems to flip the oft-used reasoning of same-sex marriage opponents, who claim that gay marriage is harmful to children and families, and disruptive to the longstanding order of American society. In the oral arguments for Obergefell, several justices raised this very question—even Breyer, who joined in the decision, said that marriage between a man and a woman “has been the law everywhere for thousands of years. Suddenly you want nine people outside the ballot box to require states to change [this configuration].” But on Friday, Breyer joined four of his colleagues to do exactly that.
“Protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education,” Kennedy writes. Not all straight married couples have children, and they’re certainly not required to do so by law, he reasons; the same rule should apply to gay married couples. But more importantly, for those gay couples that do want to have kids—including the many, many couples who adopt or have children using the genetic material of one parent—seeing their unions as less than marriage under the law creates a “more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue thus harm and humiliate the children.”
Finally, Kennedy affirms that marriage is “a keystone of the Nation’s social order.” It is the institution at the center of the United States’ legal and educational structures, and because of this, “it is demeaning to lock same-sex couples out of a central institution of the Nation’s society, for they too may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage.”
“Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations,” Kennedy writes. This is, perhaps, the most striking argument of all, for it is an argument about the nature, significance, and dignity of marriage itself. “The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society,” Kennedy writes, but the “institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time.”
I really have nothing to say other than I feel almost blissfully, joyously happy. Not just for myself (really, I don’t have anyone in my life, so marriage remains theoretical for me), but for so many other people out there. There are who knows how many people who have wanted to marry, but were prevented from doing so bc they were lesbian, gay, or bisexual. And it comes during Pride month! This is one step closer to being treated as full human beings in the eyes of the law. Thank you SCOTUS. Thank you for doing the right thing!