In a plurality Opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, today, June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality for the country. Removing any doubt that states that did not support same-sex marriage would be able to continue to discriminate against LGBTQ couples, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court provided that states must (1) recognize same-sex marriages that were lawfully performed, even if outside of their states and (2) states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Accordingly, if a state did not recognize or did not provide for same-sex marriages before, it must do so now.
The Court’s rationale for its ruling considered 4 principles: (1) personal choice; (2) the status of marriage; (3) the protection of children; and (4) the stability of America’s social order.
This 27-page Decision downloaded here, followed by 76 pages of dissent, is based on the fundamental right to marry, which is undergirded by the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The holding is as eloquent as it is just:
“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.”
The 62 pages of dissent begins with Chief Justice Roberts, who argues that the acceptance of marriage equality will be much more difficult to achieve because of those who were and are against marriage equality will be chaffed by the fact that their opinions are now irrelevant in the eyes of the law. He analogizes the coming “cloud” over marriage equality to that of the cloud over racial equality. It is a point well taken but, respectfully, the Chief Justice is ignoring the fact that a long-standing responsibility of the Court is to provide equality in the law where inequality exists for those who have been marginalized. The fight for social recognition, of course, is not over. However, being equal with respect to the law does not require social acceptance.
Justice Scalia argues that America’s democracy is now in jeopardy. His dissent is not unusual in that he disagrees with the Opinion on the grounds of Constitutional literalism and states’ rights. It is unusual in that he equates the Court with God but then states that the Court, or the 5 activist judges comprising the majority in this Decision, is acting out of hubris. His opinion that 135 years of precedent has been overturned is quite remarkable, itself.
Justice Thomas is also in his usual form, reiterating Justice Scalia’s remarks but offering for good measure a nod to the Magna Carta that just celebrated its 800th anniversary and the philosopher John Locke.
The final and most brief dissent, authored by Justice Alito, is a rejection of the new norm or “orthodoxy” as J. Alito terms it.
Notwithstanding the dissents, as C.J. Roberts stated, the argument – at least legally – is over; and to quote J. Kenned, “It is so ordered.”