In a wide-reaching decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that same-sex “marriage” is a constitutional right and that states must recognize same-sex unions contracted as marriages in other states.
By a vote of 5-4, the court ruled June 26 that states must recognize same-sex “marriages” under the 14th Amendment, and recognize such unions contracted in other states.
The decision in Obergefell v. Hodges dealt with claims that Ohio’s marriage law discriminated by not recognizing same-sex unions contracted as marriages in other states. Several other states were also facing similar cases on the constitutionality of state marriage laws.
Backers of marriage as a union of one man and one woman argued that marriage is intrinsically connected to the procreation of children and cannot be redefined. Some also said the matter should be left to the people and the states and not decided in court when so much disagreement on the matter persists.
Backers of “gay marriage” asserted a fundamental right to marry whomever one loves, saying that failure to redefine marriage amounts to decimation.
Same-sex “marriage” was not firmly established in any U.S. state until 2004, after a Massachusetts court ruled that the state must give marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In response to that ruling, some had called for a federal constitutional amendment to protect the definition of marriage. Voters in 30 states have passed constitutional amendments and referenda strengthening the legal definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Many of these efforts have been overturned in state or federal court challenges.
In 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal from supporters of California’s defense-of-marriage amendment, Proposition 8, which California officials had refused to defend in court. The Supreme Court said that the appeal did not have legal standing and allowed a lower state court’s overruling of the proposition to take effect.
The Supreme Court itself has declined to review several recent appeals seeking to defend state marriage laws against lower court decisions.
Also in 2013, a 5-4 ruling from the Supreme Court struck down aspects of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act. The court claimed that a provision defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman for federal purposes violated the U.S. constitution’s equal protection guarantees. The ruling said that the federal government must recognize “gay marriages” in individual states if the states choose to recognize them.
The Defense of Marriage Act had passed Congress overwhelmingly and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton after a Hawaii court ruling briefly recognized such unions.
Increasing requirements for recognition of same-sex unions as marriages, combined with state anti-discrimination laws, have caused growing conflict with religious freedom. Parents in some school districts have faced difficulty in exempting their children from classes voicing approval of same-sex relationships, while small businesses with moral reservations about participating in same-sex ceremonies have faced discrimination lawsuits. Catholic-run adoption agencies have been forced to close because the law would require them to place children with same-sex couples against their religious beliefs.
The consequences for religious freedom were a topic of the court’s deliberations in Obergefell v. Hodges. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verilli at one point acknowledged that the high court’s approval of a legal right to same-sex “marriage” could mean problems for the tax-exempt status of colleges with objections to recognizing the unions.
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