Written by Steven Spear, Jr.
Edited by Morgan DeLisle
June 26, 2015. This date is widely known throughout the LGBTQ community. On this day, the Supreme Court heard a case named Obergefell v. Hodges, and, in a 5-4 vote, same-sex marriage was allowed throughout the entire United States.
So what was the story behind Obergefell v. Hodges? I’ll walk you through it. Why did the Court decide that prohibiting same-sex marriage goes against the Constitution? You’re about to become an expert in constitutional law so hang on:
According to Emily Bazelona and Adam Liptak in a New York Times article, “James Obergefell and John Arthur decided to get married to obtain legal recognition of their relationship. They married in Maryland. After learning that their state of residence, Ohio, would not recognize their marriage, they filed a lawsuit in federal court. Because John Arthur was terminally ill and suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), they wanted the Ohio Registrar to identify the other partner, James Obergefell, as his surviving spouse on his death certificate, based on their marriage in Maryland.” Ohio wouldn’t allow that.
The case was tried in federal court and appealed up to the Supreme Court. Here’s what the Court said:
The Majority Opinion
The majority opinion was written by Anthony Kennedy and agreed to by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, and the Court ruled that state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.
Kennedy gives many reasons why he and the majority believe that same sex-marriage is protected by the Constitution. His first reason, and perhaps his most convincing, relies on the case Loving v. Virginia (a case that held bans on interracial marriage as unconstitutional). In Loving, the Court held that “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.” In Obergefell, the Court essentially expanded this reasoning to say that “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of [the same sex] resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”
Kennedy went to say that same-sex marriage bans violate Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause. See, I said that you would become an expert in constitutional law—
Due Process Clause: “…nor shall any State deprive any [persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof] of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” This means that every U.S. citizen cannot have their life, liberty, or property taken away without fair legal proceedings. Obergefell focuses on having liberty to marry whomever you wish regardless of sex and having the government recognizing the right to privacy in making that decision.
Equal Protection Clause: “…nor deny to any [persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof]…the equal protection of the laws.” This means that every U.S. citizen must be treated fairly and equally by the law. Obergefell states that there is a right to marry and that same-sex couples should not be treated differently from opposite-sex couples: A marriage recognized by one state should be equally as dignified in another.
Of the 9 Justices on the Court, 4 disagreed with the above reasoning to allow same-sex marriage. A Justice who disagree with the majority opinion can file a dissent to formally express their disagreement. Most of the dissenting Justices in Obergefell actually said that they have no problem with same-sex marriage. So then why did they disagree with the majority? Continue reading this article to understand the dissents of those four Justices.
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