In a close ruling that came in just before the nation celebrates Pride weekend, the high court has ruled that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage across the country.
The 5-4 decision comes as the culmination of decades of activism and litigation. The move was not unexpected, with 36 states now allowing same-sex marriage.
As late as October the Justices refused to hear cases regarding same-sex marriage. But once the Sixth Circuit delivered a 2-1 ruling upholding the marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee the Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear the case. As Steve Delchin noted in an LXBN TV interview at the time, it’s the ironic decision to uphold the ban that might’ve been the linchpin in legalizing same-sex marriage:
We have something today that we didn’t have yesterday, and that’s a circuit split–and a stark one, for that matter. The Sixth Circuit’s gay marriage decision last Thursday created a direct conflict with decisions on the 4th, the 7th, the 9th, and 10th Circuit decisions on the issue. And we didn’t have this split in October when the Supreme Court denied requests to take up the gay marriage issues.
A lot of people were surprised the Supreme Court stayed its hand last month but I didn’t find it surprising. I think the Court was waiting to see if a circuit split would emerge–and now we have it.
…Let me leave you with the ultimate irony: consider that Judge Sutton’s opinion is the ultimate defense on judicial restraint. But his opinion likely might be the catalyst that not only spurs the Supreme Court to accepting gay marriage, but also a judicially active opinion that creates new constitutional rights.
Many believe that the Justices have been waiting and positioning themselves for just the right case—which Obergefell v. Hodges finally was. And with 60 percent of the country in favor of it and LGBTQ Pride weekend coming for many, this decision came at just the right time.
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. [The challengers] ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
Though this decision was the culmination of decades of activism, but the road isn’t quite done yet.
“This is only the beginning of a whole lot of other issues that will come from this,” said Texas family and divorce lawyer Michelle O’Neil. “It’s overarching effects show itself not only in the right to go get a marriage license, but the right to divorce, inherit, adopt, designate their own beneficiaries…I think that this is just a first step—and a very important step—that legitimizes same-sex relationships. And there will likely be things we’re not even thinking of today that are effected by legitimization.”
As same-sex marriage continues to settle in, O’Neil knows same-sex marriages will normalize, and the kinks in the system will get worked out.
“One of the problems we have here in Texas is that a marriage certificate says ‘husband’ and ‘wife;’ in Dallas County, they’re scratching that out and writing in the correct terms for the spouses. But that’s just one small example of the far-reaching changes this is going to have,” said O’Neil, author on Gay & Lesbian Family Law in Texas.
“It’s a new era of life for same-sex couples, and that’s very, very good and should be celebrated, but also presents complications that will have to be explored.”
O’Neil notes that technically we still have two more weeks before SCOTUS’ appellate decision take effect, but there likely aren’t a whole lot of legal ramifications for those getting married today. Additionally the fight isn’t over for the LGBTQ community’s acceptance.
“I think it’s everything that everybody hoped and thought it would be, and the historical significance is going to prove to be bigger than we realize today,” said O’Neil. “This is kind of the constitutional rights decision of our generation.”
Happy Pride everyone!