In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country. Previously, thirty-seven states, plus the District of Columbia, had legalized same-sex marriage.
The decision brings same-sex marriage across the country and many marriage licenses have already been granted. In some states, it could take a bit of time as states that were part of the lawsuit may need to fulfill some legal quirks in order to grant the licenses.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion of the Court and was joined by the liberal wing of Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayer. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas were all in the dissent and each wrote their own dissenting opinion.
Justice Kennedy invoked the Fourteenth Amendment in his legal reasoning, saying that the amendment mandates that full marriage rightsJustice be applied to heterosexual couples as well as same-sex couples. He wrote:
The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. The petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.
The lead plaintiff, Jim Obergefall, filed the lawsuit after his partner had died. Kennedy references that in his opinion:
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.
Justice Scalia attacked the Court in his dissenting opinion. He lashed out at the five justices for believing it was within the Court’s realm to rule and mandate the legalization of same-sex marriage. He wrote:
This is a naked judicial claim to legislative—indeed, super-legislative—power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government. Except as limited by a constitutional prohibition agreed to by the People, the States are free to adopt whatever laws they like, even those that offend the esteemed Justices’ “reasoned judg- ment.” A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.
He then continued with his thought on the “nine unelected lawyers” by adding how the justices of the Court are not representative of the country:
Judges are selected precisely for their skill as lawyers; whether they reflect the policy views of a particular con- stituency is not (or should not be) relevant. Not surpris- ingly then, the Federal Judiciary is hardly a cross-section of America. Take, for example, this Court, which consists of only nine men and women, all of them successful law- yers18 who studied at Harvard or Yale Law School. Four of the nine are natives of New York City. Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States. Only one hails from the vast expanse in-between. Not a single South- westerner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner (California does not count). Not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans19), or even a Protestant of any denomination. The strikingly unrepresentative character of the body voting on today’s social upheaval would be irrelevant if they were functioning as judges, answering the legal question whether the American people had ever ratified a constitutional provision that was understood to proscribe the traditional definition of marriage. But of course the Justices in today’s majority are not voting on that basis; they say they are not. And to allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.