In a landmark decision Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Constitution allowed same sex couples the right to legally marry, regardless of where they resided in the United States. The Court was closely divided in its 5-4 ruling, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing the opinion for the majority, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan joining in the majority.
The majority based their holding on the principle that the right to marriage is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution, and as such, should be equally available to same sex couples as opposite sex couples. Further, the majority recognized the evolving societal view towards the issue of same sex marriage, with majority of the American public now supporting the rights of same sex couples to marry. Justice Kennedy wrote, “The limitation of marriage to opposite sex couples may have long seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the right to marry is now manifest.”
The Justices dissenting, including Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Jr., did not disagree specifically with the idea that same sex couples should not be allowed to marry, but rather, whether the judicial branch was overreaching the power afforded to the states to make the decisions regarding marriage. The minority’s dissent did not address the issue of whether same sex marriage was right or wrong, but instead addressed who can make that decision. Chief Justice, John Roberts, Jr., highlighted this disregard of the democratic process as the judicial ruling “invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the states and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for a millennia…”.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday finally brought the national recognition of same sex marriages in line with the California state law allowing same sex marriages. In June 2006, the California Supreme Court held in In Re Marriage Cases the state’s ban on same sex marriages was unconstitutional. Same sex couples were issued marriage licenses from June 2008 until November 2008, when the amendment to the California State Constitution known as Proposition 8, passed by a slim majority. Proposition 8 defined legal marriages in the State of California as “one man and one woman”, once again preventing same sex couples from getting married.
Appellate Lawyers in California argued in a 2010 Federal Court decision – Hollingsworth v. Perry – that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated same sex couple’s rights to due process and equal protections by preventing courts from issuing same sex couples valid marriage licenses. When this decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States in 2013, the Court bypassed the specific constitutional issues of same sex marriage, but did hold that the appellants lacked standing to appeal the decision of the lower court holding that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. This holding allowed marriage licenses to resume being issued to same sex couples in California.
The United States Supreme Court’s decision on Friday made it clear that the fourteen states with bans on same sex marriage could no longer prevent same sex couples from acquiring a valid marriage license in those states. Almost a decade after the State of California took its first steps towards allowing same sex marriage, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that the rest of the nation must follow in California’s footsteps.
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