THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of full marriage rights for all couples nationwide in an opinion released today in Obergefell v. Hodges, a case which had sought to recognize Jim Obergefell’s marriage to his late partner John Arthur.
The court’s majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who’s written all of the court’s past landmark gay rights cases. He and four other justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses protect the rights of same-gender couples.
Kennedy said the legalization of marriage strengthens, not weakens the institution.
The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change,” Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “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.”
Kennedy added, “This dynamic can be seen in the Nation’s experience with gay and lesbian rights. Well into the 20th century, many States condemned same-sex intimacy as immoral, and homosexuality was treated as an illness. Later in the century, cultural and political developments allowed same-sex couples to lead more open and public lives. Extensive public and private dialogue followed, along with shifts in public attitudes.”
In ending the opinion, Kennedy wrote, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope 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.”
Chief Justice Roberts dissented in the case, along with Justices Sam Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
In his dissent, Roberts said the expansion of rights for same-gender couples is powerful, it’s not the court’s place to rule on the subject.
“[T]his Court is not a legislature,” Roberts wrote. “Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be.”
The decision now opens marriage equality in all 50 states. North Carolina couples were able to legally wed in October, the result of a decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. But couples in several other states, including Georgia, Tennessee, Michigan and others, were still denied marriage rights.
The decision today comes on the anniversary of two other landmark LGBT-rights decisions, Lawrence v. Texas decided on June 26, 2003, striking down crimes-against-nature laws, and , decided on June 26, 2013, which opened federal recognition of same-gender marriages in states where they were legally performed.
North Carolinians to celebrate today
The Supreme Court’s ruling will be celebrated today by North Carolinians across the state. In Raleigh, supporters of Equality North Carolina joined together with the LGBT Center of Raleigh immediately following the ruling. They’ll gather again at 4 p.m. to celebrate at Motorco, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham. In Charlotte, Equality North Carolina has planned a celebration at 4 p.m. at Pizza Peel in Plaza Midwood, 1600 Central Ave., Charlotte.
LGBT groups, leaders react
Jim Obergefell, named plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case:
“Today I could not be prouder of my country, more grateful for the memory of my late husband John, and more indebted to the incredible lawyers, advocates and fellow plaintiffs who made this landmark day possible. The fact that the state I have long called home will finally recognize my marriage to the man I honored and cherished for more than 20 years is a profound vindication—a victory I’m proud to share with countless more couples across the country. Thanks to the Supreme Court, a period of deep injustice in this nation is coming to a close, but it’s also clear today that there is still so much work to do. As long as discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is tolerated—whether in the seeking of a marriage license, the pursuit of fairness on the job, or the fight for equal treatment at a restaurant or business—we haven’t truly guaranteed equal justice under the law. But today’s victory proves that anything is possible, and I could not be more hopeful about the capacity of this country to change for the better.”
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina:
“Today’s ruling granting loving, same-sex couples the freedom to marry across our United States is a historic moment for our country, and for tens of thousands of same-sex families who call our state home. With it, gays and lesbians in every corner of the United States will finally be able to marry the person they love. Today, love won and we celebrate all who have worked tirelessly over many decades to change hearts and minds and make this ruling a possibility. Even as we celebrate, we know our progress does not and will not end at the Supreme Court. Same-sex couples can legally marry in North Carolina—and the very same day, be denied public services, fired from their job or denied housing simply because of who they are. With these harsh realities in mind, Equality NC remains committed to fighting for full equality for LGBT North Carolinians wherever they work or live.”
Roberta Kaplan, lead counsel in U.S. v. Windsor (2003) and the Campaign for Southern Equality’s Mississippi marriage case, Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant:
“What a glorious day for this great country. By recognizing once and for all that the Constitution respects the dignity of all Americans, gay or straight, the Supreme Court has once again honored the core American values of equal protection and due process of law. “We are confident that Mississippi officials statewide will honor their constitutional duties and will move quickly to begin issuing marriage licenses to our clients Andrea Sanders and Becky Bickett and to the many other Mississippians who have waited so long to protect their families by marrying the person who they love.”
Campaign for Southern Equality’s Jasmine Beach-Ferrara:
“LGBT families have always been equal in the eyes of God but now, finally, they are also equal under the law, with a safety net of legal protections surrounding them. With great joy, we expect that marriages will begin immediately in Mississippi and Alabama. Through this landmark decision, the Court has signaled that policies that treat LGBT people as second-class citizens do not fulfill the American promise of equal protection under the law and cannot stand.”
Evan Wolfson, Freedom to Marry:
“Today’s ruling is a transformative triumph decades in the making, a momentous victory for freedom, equality, inclusion, and above all, love. For anyone who ever doubted that we could bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, today the United States again took a giant step toward the more perfect union we the people aspire to. Today the Liberty Bell rings alongside wedding bells across an ocean of joy. With the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the justices affirmed what a super-majority of Americans had come to understand: the freedom to marry is a precious, fundamental right that belongs to all, and that same-sex couples and our families share the same dreams and needs as any others. Today’s win is the culmination of a decades-long campaign that successfully made the case in the court of public opinion, enabling victories in the courts of law. Freedom to Marry calls on state officials to swiftly and faithfully implement the Constitution’s command in the remaining 13 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.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign:
“Today’s ruling makes perfectly clear that there is no legal or moral justification for standing in the path of marriage equality. Couples from Mississippi to North Dakota to Texas shouldn’t have to wait even a moment longer to be treated equally under the law. State officials across the country must act swiftly to ensure that every obstacle to obtaining a marriage license is removed. To do anything less is a shameful attempt to cement their state on the wrong side of history. But what’s clear today is that our work isn’t done until every discriminatory law in this nation is wiped away. The time has come in this country for comprehensive federal LGBT non-discrimination protections. We now have to work harder than ever before to make sure LGBT Americans cannot be fired, evicted or denied services simply on the basis of the marriage license that they fought so hard to achieve.”
Activist group GetEqual took the opportunity to remind community members that the movement for full equality is far from over, from co-director Angela Peoples:
“We can’t let this moment distract from the very real violence that LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ people of color and black people, are facing. As people gather in Charleston right now to mourn the lives of those murdered by a white supremacist gunman, we know the struggle for liberation is an urgent one — for LGBTQ people, black people and people of color, people living below the poverty line, and anyone experiencing violence and discrimination. The work of the movement is far from over.”
An excerpt from President Barack Obama’s statement following the ruling:
“This ruling is a victory for Jim Obergefell and the other plaintiffs in the case. It’s a victory 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. And this ruling is a victory for America. This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts: When all Americans are treated as equal we are all more free.”
THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY.