“Love is love,” Barack Obama exclaimed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5:4 to make same-sex marriage a right across the United States last Friday. “[This ruling is] for gay and lesbian couples who have fought so long for their basic civil rights. It’s a victory for their children, whose families will now be recognized as equal to any other. It’s a victory for the allies and friends and supporters who spent years, even decades, working and praying for change to come.”
The court ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage that still existed in 13 states was unconstitutional. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated that an equal right to marriage is protected by the Constitution. He wrote that the hope of the applicants – several same-sex couples seeking to marry – “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 majority took the view that the Bill of Rights was designed so that it could grow and evolve to adapt to societal changes and protect new rights. Justice Kennedy explained that “the generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.”
Justice Kennedy found that the bans on same-sex marriage were contrary to the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which reads that no state can “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” He referred to marriage using the term “dignity,” which he argues falls under the protections of the 14th Amendment: “these liberties extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs.”
In recognizing the fundamental right to marriage, Justice Kennedy spoke to the significance of raising children: “Without the recognition, stability and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples.”
The court also addressed the reality that there will inevitably continue to be people who oppose same-sex marriage, concluding that the marriages must be permitted but the debate should continue. Justice Kennedy wrote: “Those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.”
The four more conservative judges on the bench wrote individual dissenting opinions, with Justice Antonin Scalia’s being the most heated of them all. He disagreed with the majority’s view that the Constitution should evolve and grow. He also took issue with the conclusion that the individual states cannot make their own decisions on the issue of same-sex marriage. Justice Scalia explained that the laws on marriage “[are] not of immense personal importance to me” and that “except as limited by a constitutional prohibition agreed to by the People, the States are free to adopt whatever laws they like, even those that offend the esteemed Justices’ ‘reasoned judgment.’”
Read the entire Supreme Court decision here.