In a historic and precedent-setting decision today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in favor of marriage equality, ending bans on gay and lesbian marriage. The Court relied on the 14th Amendment to rule that states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and must recognize same-sex marriages that were legally performed in other states.
Before today’s ruling, 37 states and the District of Columbia recognized same-sex marriage in one form or another. Massachusetts was the first to do so in 2004. The remaining states (including Ohio) had banned same-sex marriage outright through legislation. However, the United States now joins 20 other countries world-wide in recognizing same-sex marriage on a national scale.
The lead Plaintiff in the decision Obergefell v. Hodges was an Ohio resident who wanted to be listed as the surviving spouse on his partner’s death certificate. Today’s ruling will now allow married same-sex couples the same legal rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples, such as recognition as a “surviving spouse” or the ability to jointly adopt children.
The majority opinion, which was authored by Justice Kennedy, found that the right to marriage is “inherent in the concept of individual autonomy,” which hearkens that portion of the Constitution reserving all rights for individuals if not specifically granted to the state and federal governments. Similar reasoning was used in 1967 when the Court invalidated bans on interracial marriage under the Due Process Clause.
The decision further found that “the history of marriage is one of both continuity and change.” The majority went on to cite those changes such as the decline of arranged marriages and the abandonment of the law of coverture. (The law of coverture was one where, upon marriage, a woman’s legal rights were subsumed by her husband.) The majority found that these changes have strengthened the institution of marriage.
Since “decisions about marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make,” the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional for the government to interfere with that autonomy. In other words, the Supreme Court recognized that gay Americans have a right to “intimate association” extending beyond freedom from laws that ban homosexuality. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” Kennedy wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.”
The law firm of Wood & Long, LLC, celebrates this monumental occasion!