Gay and lesbian couples already can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The court’s ruling on Friday means the remaining 14 states, in the South and Midwest, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. The Chief Justice, John Roberts, along with Justices Alito, Thomas, and Scalia dissented.
The case, Obergefell v. Hodges, was filed by Jim Obergefell, a man whose legally-married husband died. Obergelfell sued to have his name placed on his husband's death certificate.
The Court heard four same-sex marriage cases in April, all from the 6th Circuit Court of appeals, the only appellate court that ruled states may practice marriage discrimination against same-sex couples. That decision was in Michigan's DeBoer v. Snyder, a case filed by two women, both pediatric emergency room nurses, who have adopted four special needs children and wanted to marry so they could jointly adopt each child.
On April 28, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in cases from each of the four states that comprise the 6th Circuit: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. It had challenged plaintiffs and defendants to answer two questions:
Question 1: Must states allow same-sex couples to marry under the United States Constitution?
Question 2: Must states recognize the legal marriages entered by same-sex couples in other jurisdictions?
The Court this morning answered yes to both.
Today's historic ruling may well be one of the most important civil rights rulings since 1967's Loving v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court struck down banning interracial marriage, and paved the way for today's decision by stating marriage is a civil right.
Along the way, in 2003, the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas ruled all bans on sodomy were unconstitutional and that criminalizing same-sex relationships is a violation of privacy rights.
In 2013's U.S. v. Windsor, the Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 that banned the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, in a historic case brought by Edie Windsor of New York. Windsor had married her partner of four decades, Thea Spyer, in Canada shortly before Spyer's death. The IRS demanded she pay $363,000 in inheritance taxes that she would not have had to incur had she been married to a man.
Since the DOMA decision two years ago, state marriage bans have fallen at historic speed, and the support for same-sex marriage has escalated faster than any other social issue. Today, polls find that up to 60 percent of Americans support the right of same-sex couples to marry, and the majority of Americans also wanted the Supreme Court to decide in favor of a national, 50-state right to marry.
Before today's ruling, same-sex marriage was legal in 37 states and one U.S. territory. Of the remaining 13 states, bans remained in place in the four states of the 6th Circuit. In the remaining nine states, rulings or decisions were placed on hold in deference to the impending Supreme court ruling.
There will assuredly be a backlash, as the religious right has promised. The Southern Baptist Convention, which boasts 16 million members, has vowed to defy the ruling. At least two current Republican presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, have signed a pledge to defy today's ruling. Every Republican likely and declared GOP presidential candidate is formally opposed to same-sex marriage. Some high-ranking state officials, like Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, have suggested they will not follow today's ruling.
While today's historic ruling advances civil right for LGBT Americans, this is far from the completion of the fight for equality. As more and more same-sex couples marry, they can still be fired in the majority of states for being gay. Just yesterday President Barack Obama again called on Congress to pass ENDA to protect LGBT employees.