Plaintiffs, a varied group of same-sex partners, filed suits in Federal District Courts within their respective states asserting state officials were in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment for denying same-sex marriages and failing to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed in other jurisdictions. Each District Court favored the plaintiffs’ position, however on appeal the Sixth Circuit consolidated the cases and reversed.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision delivered by Justice Kennedy, reversed holding the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment require states to license and recognize marriages between individuals of the same sex. Providing a historical overview of the institution of marriage and gay and lesbian rights, as well as a broad overview of 20th century jurisprudence, the Court opined this history is one of change; having departed from arranged marriages, abandoning the law of coverture, allowing interracial marriages and contraception, and disallowing the criminalization of homosexual acts. The Court has long held marriage is a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and there is now a historical premise that this right extends equally to same-sex partners based on the need to protect individual autonomy, the right to intimate association, the protection of children and the family unit, and making clear marriage remains a “keystone of the Nation’s social order.” State laws denying the right to marry unfairly burdens same-sex couples’ liberty interests and equal protection guarantees. Although the legislative process may seem more appropriate to remedy plaintiffs’ injuries, the Court held an individual should not be required to wait for legislative action to exercise a fundamental right so as to prevent humiliation that can occur during the wait. Because this order requires all states to license same-sex marriage, it was unnecessary, per the Court, to determine whether states must recognize out-of-state marriages. The Court further held that those religiously opposed to same-sex marriages still maintain First Amendment protections to zealously advocate their religious beliefs.
Click here to read the full Supreme Court Decision – Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015 WL 2473451 (June 26, 2015)