This morning, in a historic and groundbreaking decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that states may not prohibit couples from marrying on the basis of their sexual orientation. The court’s majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges means that marriage equality is suddenly and finally the law of the land in all fifty states of the United States. This is unquestionably one of the greatest civil rights advances of all time, and it certainly seems fitting that it comes on the eve of Seattle Pride 2015.
A great many progressive activists have worked for this day for many years, and we honor their work and contributions. They made the difference.
Eleven years ago, during the middle of the Bush error, there was just one state where LGBT couples could marry… Massachusetts. A lot has changed in the decade since. Progressives have managed to overcome a reactionary, right wing backlash to the idea of the freedom to marry in the mid-2000s, at a speed that many did not think was possible. Both in the courts and in the court of public opinion, freedom has been on a roll… and it’s left theological conservatives in utter shock.
The outcome of Obergefell v. Hodges is the culmination of a long struggle to move this country to the point where the arc of the moral universe takes another important bend towards justice.
Five justices – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Anthony Kennedy – have held that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from disallowing LGBT couples to marry or refusing to recognize marriages between LGBT couples performed in other states.
“The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change,” the justices declared, demonstrating a strong grasp of the progressive idea of dynamic freedom in the introductory portion of their majority opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy.
“Changes, such as the decline of arranged marriages and the abandonment of the law of coverture, have worked deep transformations in the structure of marriage, affecting aspects of marriage once viewed as essential.”
“These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.”
Later on, they noted:
States have contributed to the fundamental character of marriage by placing it at the center of many facets of the legal and social order.
There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle, yet same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage and are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would find intolerable. It is demeaning to lock same-sex couples out of a central institution of the Nation’s society, for they too may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage.
The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its in consistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest.
The full majority opinion, plus the conservative minority’s dissenting opinion, is available for your reading enjoyment on the Supreme Court’s website.
In a statement in the Rose Garden, President Barack Obama hailed the decision and said it would come as a great relief to many LGBT couples who have waited for marriage equality to become the law of the land in their state.
“This decision will end the patchwork system we currently have,” President Obama noted. “It will end the uncertainty hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples face from not knowing whether their marriage, legitimate in the eyes of one state, will remain if they decide to move [to] or even visit another.”
“This ruling will strengthen all of our communities by offering to all loving same-sex couples the dignity of marriage across this great land.”
“This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts: When all Americans are treated as equal we are all more free. ”
Vice President Joe Biden agreed.
“We couldn’t be prouder,” he said, speaking for both himself and Second Lady Jill Biden. “Over the years—in their homes, on our staff, on the frontlines of war, and in houses of worship—Jill and I have befriended countless gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans who share a love for their partners constrained only by social stigma and discriminatory laws. But today, their love is set free with the right to marry and the recognition of that marriage throughout the country.”
“This day is for them, their children, and their families. And it is for generations of advocates—gay, lesbian, transgender, straight—who for decades fought a lonely and dangerous battle. People of absolute courage who risked their lives, jobs, and reputations to come forward in pursuit of the basic right recognized today, but at a time when neither the country nor the courts would protect or defend them.”
“And this day is for history to remember as one where, as a nation, our laws finally recognize that all people should be treated with respect and dignity—and that all marriages, at their root, are defined by unconditional love.”
Advocates praised the decision and called on states to comply fully and swiftly with the Supreme Court’s decision, which is binding and cannot be appealed.
“Freedom to Marry calls on state officials to swiftly and faithfully implement the Constitution’s command in the remaining thirteen states with marriage discrimination, so that all Americans can marry the person they love and build and protect their families, without delay, throughout the land,” said Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson in a statement.
“The movement will continue to harness the power of the marriage conversation and win in the work ahead – including passage of a federal civil rights bill, securing state and local protections against discrimination, tending to the needs of our youth and our seniors, and ensuring that the lived experience of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is fulfilling, good, inclusive, and equal throughout the land.”
“But the work of this Freedom to Marry campaign is now accomplished. Over the next several months, we will collaborate with key movement colleagues to smartly and strategically wind down its work and document lessons learned, and then close its doors, having achieved its goal of winning marriage nationwide and helping loving and committed couples cross the threshold to marriage and full inclusion in society, with equal justice under law.”
We at NPI congratulate the plaintiffs who brought this landmark legal challenge. Like their counterparts in Windsor, Perry, Lawrence, and other historic cases, their determination and perseverance has paved the way for another major civil rights victory in this country. It is crucial that progressives always be working to expand freedom — for freedom doesn’t stand still. If we do not work hard to expand freedom, radical conservatives will succeed in contracting it.
Let the celebration of nationwide marriage equality across the whole United States of America begin — it’s Pride month!