Supreme Court Rules Gay Marriage Is a Nationwide Right

   < < Go Back
from The Wall Street Journal,

In 5-4 decision, justices say Constitution guarantees marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples.

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled same-sex partners have a constitutional right to marry, sweeping away state bans on gay unions and extending marriage equality nationwide.

The 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges struck down restrictions on same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee that a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court upheld last year. It also validated a series of lower court opinions that expanded the institution across most of the nation since 2012, following an earlier Supreme Court holding requiring federal recognition of gay and lesbian marriages in states that had chosen to authorize the practice.

The opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy caps a rapid shift in legal and societal acceptance of same-sex marriage over the past decade. It also marks a revolution in American society, one that in the course of a generation saw gay rights move to the front line from the fringes of a national debate over the meaning of equality.

Friday’s ruling marked the fourth major gay-rights ruling by Justice Kennedy. As at times in the past, he used sweeping language in describing the outcome.

“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,” Justice Kennedy wrote in the 28-page majority opinion. “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Justice Kennedy was joined in the majority by the court’s four liberal justices— Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. The four conservatives filed four separate dissenting opinions, each of which some of the others joined.

“If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas. “But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

In states that had continued to bar same-sex marriages, officials began dropping prohibitions and couples moved immediately to seek and obtain marriage licenses.

The immediate aftermath, however, was creating initial confusion in some places, including Mississippi. Lou Ellen Adams, the circuit court clerk in Hattiesburg, said she issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple not long after the high court’s decision, only to get a notice from the state attorney general a short time later saying the ruling wouldn’t take immediate effect in the state until some legal-procedural matters were resolved.

More From The Wall Street Journal (subscription required):