The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Friday that the U.S. Constitution recognizes same-sex marriage nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges, one of the biggest Supreme Court cases in history.
The case asked two major questions:
1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license same-sex marriages?
2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a same-sex marriage that was lawfully licensed and performed in a different state?
Thirteen states currently have bans on same-sex marriages, but those bans are now unconstitutional, meaning states must begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
If the court had ruled against gay marriage, it would have thrown states into legal chaos. The twenty states whose courts have struck down gay marriage bans would have been in conflict with the Supreme Court.
Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the four liberal justices two years ago in the Defense of Marriage Act case. The court decided the federal government should stop defining marriage as between a man and a woman as far as federal laws and programs were concerned. That ruling led most experts to believe the court would side with gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges and put all the attention on Kennedy during proceedings.
During oral arguments for Obergefell v. Hodges in April, Justice Kennedy, who was a key vote in the decision, gave conservatives hope when he said “this definition has been with us for millennia. And it it’s very difficult for the court to say, oh, well, we know better.”
But Kennedy was tough on the conservative side as well, which argued that same-sex couples can’t raise children as well as regular couples and that they don’t have the same incentive to stay together through tough times, weakening the institution.
Chief Justice John Roberts argued that gay couples are not just trying to get married, they are trying to change the very definition of the institution.
The impending threat of a ruling in favor of gay marriage has instilled fear in religious groups since the case went before the court. Churches and religious schools fear that refusal to accept gay marriage could endanger their tax exempt status. Pastors have vowed disobedience writing an open letter in the Washington Post.
“We are Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christian pastors, clergy, lay leaders and Jewish leaders, who collectively represent millions of people in our specific churches, parishes, denominations, synagogues and media ministry outreaches,” the letter read.
While many have dismissed the fears, during oral arguments in April, Justice Antonin Scalia raised similar concerns asking if exemptions that protected religious leaders from prosecution for discrimination would still hold if gay marriage became a constitutional right.
“But once it’s — it’s made a matter of constitutional law, those exceptions — for example, is it — is it conceivable that a minister who is authorized by the State to conduct marriage can decline to marry two men if indeed this Court holds that they have a constitutional right to marry? Is it conceivable that that would be allowed?” Scalia said.
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