In a widely expected, yet stunning, victory for LGBT people nationally, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that state bans on marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional.
The June 26 decision, in the case Obergefell v. Hodges, requires states to both issue marriage licenses to couples and to recognize marriage licenses obtained in other states by same-sex couples. The case was brought by plaintiff couples in four states: Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
(Jim Obergefell speaks in San Francisco June 10, ahead of the Supreme Court’s marriage decision. Photo: Rick Gerharter)
The 5-4 decision, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, strikes down bans that have been enforced in 13 states and is expected to secure the lower court decisions that struck down bans in nine other states.
Kennedy was joined in the decision by the court’s four more liberal justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
Chief Justice John Roberts led the dissent, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.
Kennedy wrote that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”
“The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them,” his opinion stated.
Speaking from the Rose Garden Friday morning – before leaving for South Carolina where he is delivering the eulogy for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney – President Barack Obama called the ruling “a victory for America.”
(Flags waved outside the Supreme Court Friday following the same-sex marriage decision. Photo: Rudy K. Lawidjaja)
“This decision will end the patchwork system we have,” the president said.
He praised people who fought for years – “for decades,” he said – and said the ruling is a victory “for Jim Obergefell and the other plaintiffs, for other gay and lesbian couples and their children, and it’s a victory for the allies and friends and supporters.”
“Today we can say, in no uncertain terms, we made our union a little more perfect,” Obama said.
LGBT organizations and political leaders all over the country began issuing news releases declaring the decision “historic,” “amazing,” and “landmark.”
State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), a gay man who twice tried to legalize same-sex marriage in California before it became legal after the Supreme Court threw out Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban, in 2013, said Friday’s decision was “long overdue.”
“It was a long time coming,” Leno told the Bay Area Reporter. “Amid all the joy, all the elation, all the celebration, a quiet part of me says this just feels right.”
The California Legislative LGBT Caucus issued a statement shortly after the court’s decision was announced.
“It is hard to believe that just seven years after California voters passed Proposition 8, we are now celebrating marriage equality in the fullest sense of the word,” said caucus chair, Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton). “The court’s majority has affirmed that LGBT rights are not special rights. The loving bond between two individuals is not gay marriage and it is not same-sex marriage, but just marriage. Our struggle has gone on for so long, and on so many fronts, with so many reversals and setbacks, that it has been difficult to allow ourselves time to savor any triumphs. But today, the U.S. Supreme Court has given us a momentous one. Today we shall love and rejoice, and tomorrow, we will continue the fight.”
Added gay Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park), “Marrying my partner of 32 years was one of the greatest days of my life. It was an experience and an opportunity that many loving couples across the country have been denied until now. This Supreme Court decision, which finds that states cannot prohibit same-sex marriage, is historic not only for the LGBT community, but also for all Americans who value fairness and equality. The institution of marriage provides over 1,000 legal and financial privileges. More importantly, it is a powerful symbol of a couple’s love and commitment. It is something to be cherished and shared.”
Rallies planned in advance are due to take place on the day the decision, including outside New York City’s historic Stonewall Inn.
In San Francisco, people were expected to gather at City Hall at 9 a.m. A rally is planned for the Castro at 6 p.m., the beginning of Pride weekend.
Dissenting, Roberts said that “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,” wrote Roberts. “The people of a state are free to expand marriage to include same-sex couples, or to retain the historic definition.”
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton praised the court’s ruling.
“Along with millions of Americans, I am celebrating today’s landmark victory for marriage equality, and the generations of advocates and activists who fought to make it possible,” Clinton said in a statement. “From Stonewall to the Supreme Court, the courage and determination of the LGBT community has changed hearts and changed laws.”
Clinton also noted that the fight for equality doesn’t end with the ruling.
“But we know that the struggle for LGBT rights doesn’t end with today’s triumph,” she added.
“As love and joy flood our streets today, it is hard to imagine how anyone could deny the full protection of our laws to any of our fellow Americans—but there are those who would. So while we celebrate the progress won today, we must stand firm in our conviction to keep moving forward. For too many LGBT Americans who are subjected to discriminatory laws, true equality is still just out of reach. While we celebrate today, our work won’t be finished until every American can not only marry, but live, work, pray, learn and raise a family free from discrimination and prejudice. We cannot settle for anything less.”
Scalia, who is known for his harshly worded disagreements, derided Kennedy’s majority opinion, characterized it as “pretentious” and “egotistic” and said it “has to diminish this court’s reputation for clear thinking and sober analysis” and caused him to want to “hide my head in a bag.”
Lesbian Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) called the majority decision a “huge, huge milestone in our quest for freedom and human equality.” On MSNBC just minutes after the decision was released Friday morning, she called the decision “sweeping” and predicted it would help promote “full equality” for LGBT people in other arenas, including employment and public accommodations.
“We’ve always known that discrimination is wrong,” said Baldwin, “but to have the Supreme Court in such a bold fashion say that it is now unconstitutional is just remarkable progress.”
A large crowd of LGBT people, supporters, and media crowded the steps before the Supreme Court building plaza Friday morning. A male chorus could be heard singing the national anthem at 10:35, with onlookers waving rainbow and Human Rights Campaign equal-sign flags.
Mary Bonauto, the lesbian attorney who argued against the state bans on marriage for same-sex couples before the high court, told the gathering that the decision is “momentous” and “a landmark ruling for love and for justice.” In her remarks to the crowd, and then later to a reporter, Bonauto noted the decision was released on a day when the country is in deep mourning over the racially motivated killings of nine African Americans at a Bible study inside Charleston, South Carolina’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Bonauto said it was important that all people be treated equally and protected from violent acts of discrimination. She told MSNBC that the court’s decision shows “we do have a fundamental right to marriage” but that the “nation remains divided about this even as a majority of people support loving and committed couples taking this step to marry.”
The Human Rights Campaign hailed the decision.
“Today is a monumental victory and a giant leap toward full equality,” HRC President Chad Griffin told an MSNBC reporter on the steps of the Supreme Court. But he, too, added that there is much more to do.
“While we’re all out here celebrating today because marriage equality has come to every state in the country,” said Griffin, “we also have to remember that still today in America, in this country, in a majority of states, the moment this decision is realized and couples get married, in a majority of states, they can be married at 10 a.m., fired from their jobs by noon, and evicted from their homes by 2 simply because there are no explicit federal protections as it relates to non-discrimination in this country.”
HRC announced it was sending letters to each governor of the 13 states plus Missouri (which allows marriage but only in certain jurisdictions) to urge “immediate” and “full compliance with the law.”
In some of those states, efforts have been underway for some time to find a way to defy the widely anticipated Supreme Court decision. The North Carolina Legislature passed a bill to let public officials who issue marriage licenses and can conduct ceremonies to refuse to administer the paperwork or perform the ceremony by claiming “sincerely held religious objections.” The governor vetoed the measure but on June 11, the Legislature overrode the veto.
In Arkansas, the state supreme court ordered marriage clerks to stop issuing licenses to same-sex couples, but on June 9, a state judge declared that more than 500 licenses issued to same-sex couples before the state supreme court order was issued would be considered valid. The Texas Supreme Court has taken a similar tact.
But Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights who was involved in one of the four cases under appeal, said the majority opinion includes discussions that are likely to help equality for LGBT people in many other arenas.
“The court’s ruling that fundamental rights cannot be limited based on historical patterns of discrimination will be helpful to LGBT people in other fundamental rights cases, such as those involving the fundamental right to procreative freedom, to vote, to create a family, and to travel,” said Minter. “The court’s emphasis that the Constitution protects a broad liberty to self-determination and expression will be helpful to transgender litigants in many contexts.”
And Minter said the majority’s discussion of parenting will be “enormously helpful in other parenting cases.”
– reported by Lisa Keen