BREAKING: Supreme Court makes marriage equality law of the land in 5-4 decision

In a 5-4 decision this morning, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v Hodges that state-level bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, and that states must recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other states. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion, which comes two years to the day after he wrote the 2013 opinion that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act but avoided legalizing same-sex marriage outright.

As the Court held in its majority opinion, one of the core claims made by opponents of marriage equality, that the traditional notion of marriage was between one man and one woman, simply does not hold up under historical scrutiny:

The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. Changes, such as the decline of arranged marriages and the abandonment of the law of coverture, have worked deep transformations in the structure of marriage, affecting aspects of marriage once viewed as essential. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.

Importantly, the Court based its decision in the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause, making the issue one of equal protection. Citing Loving v Virginia, which invalidated bans on interracial marriage, Justice Anthony Kennedy held “The fundamental liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs.

In a similar vein, he wrote that “the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.” As Kennedy powerfully closed:

Rainbow flag, via Wikimedia Commons

Rainbow flag, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Each of the four dissenting justices, Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas, wrote separate opinions.

Not only does this case make marriage equality the law of the land, it sets strong precedent for protecting LGBT citizens across other cases. The same logic used to establish same-sex marriage could be applied to cases concerning non-discrimination or hate crimes — i.e. the next set of struggles for the LGBT movement now that the marriage issue is settled once and for all.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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