We All Deserve the Freedom to Marry
We All Deserve the Freedom to Marry: Signs seen at a Hillcrest, San Diego parade in 2009 (Photo: Nathan Rupert, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

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.

SCO­TUS­Blog has more legal analy­sis here.

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!

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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