United States Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage

 Mary Zambreno Iowa Family Law Dickinson Law Des Moines Iowa

Posted on 06/26/2015 at 01:05 PM by Mary Zambreno

In a landmark decision issued by the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, et al., the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution guaranteed the right of same-sex couples to marry and requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state. In a 5-4 decision, Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion, in which Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined, while Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito dissented. In Obergefell, a series of cases were tried in district courts in the states of Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee all states that did not recognize same-sex marriages and refused to recognize those of the petitioners.

The petitioners in Obergefell were comprised of 14 same-sex couples, as well as two men whose same-sex partners were deceased. The petitioners' marriages were lawfully performed in states that did recognize same-sex marriage. The two-pronged question posed to the Supreme Court were whether the Fourteenth Amendment 1) requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex; and 2) requires a state to recognize a same-sex marriage licensed and performed in a state which does not grant that right. The Court recognized that under the Fourteenth Amendment, no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law but that an enduring part of the judicial duty has been to interpret via the Constitution in identifying and protecting fundamental rights, which previously included the right to marry in another landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia. In reaching the conclusion that same-sex couples may exercise the right to marry, the Court analyzed four fundamental principles of marriage, the first of which was that individuals have the right to personal choice in marriage, as demonstrated in Loving. The second principle addressed in the opinion was that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individual. Justice Kennedy referenced the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court case that afforded same-sex couples the same right as opposite-sex couples to enjoy intimate association. The third fundamental principle addressed was that marriage safeguards children and families. Again, Justice Kennedy referenced a prior Supreme Court case, Zablocki v. Redhail, wherein it was held that the right to marry, establish a home, and bring up children is a central part of the Due Process Clause.

Finally, the fourth fundamental principle addressed was that 'marriage is a keystone of our social order.' By that, Justice Kennedy pointed out that issues such as taxation, inheritance and property rights, intestate succession, spousal privilege in laws of evidence, hospital access, medical decision-making and authority, adoption rights, rights and benefits of survivors, birth and death certificates, health insurance, and child support, custody and visitation rules all depend on an individual's marital status. As Justice Kennedy wrote when summing up the majority opinion that the Fourteenth Amendment permits same-sex couples to marry, 'Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.' As to the second question posed to the Court regarding whether a state must recognize a same-sex marriage from another state, Justice Kennedy wrote that being married in one state but having that valid marriage denied in another state promotes instability and uncertainty, and that because the Court now held in this opinion that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all states, it also followed that there is no lawful basis for a state to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another state. In his closing, Justice 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.

In his dissent, Justice Roberts argued that while the policy arguments in support of same-sex marriage may be compelling, each state should be allowed to maintain its own definition of marriage through the legislative process. Justice Thomas, in a separate dissent, wrote that petitioners were not actually deprived of liberty as required by the Due Process Clause, but that they were still free to engage in their same-sex relationships, cohabitate and raise their children, and engage in civil unions in states that do recognize same-sex marriages without governmental interference. Similar to Justice Roberts, Justice Alito opined in his dissent that the majority decision usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage. Review a copy of the full Obergefell v. Hodges opinion.

The material in this blog is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney if specific legal information is needed.

Categories: Mary Zambreno, Family Law


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