In a landmark (and controversial) 5-4 decision, Supreme Court justices ruled on Friday that same-sex couples have a Constitutional right to marry and that all states must acknowledge that right. The court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges — in favor were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Anthony Kennedy — settled four cases brought by gay and lesbian couples in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The court's decision acknowledges the seismic shift in public opinion on the issue, particularly among young people: A recent Washington Post-ABC poll showed a record high 61 percent of Americans supporting same-sex marriage.
"No union is more profound than marriage for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family," wrote Justice Kennedy, for the majority. "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 judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered."
Chief Justice John Roberts, while recognizing the "undeniable appeal" of the arguments put forth in favor of same-sex marriage, dissented from the majority view. "Today ... the Court takes the extraordinary step of ordering every State to license and recognize same-sex marriage," wrote Roberts. "Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration. But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening. Supporters of same-sex marriage have achieved considerable success persuading their fellow citizens — through the democratic process — to adopt their view. That ends today. Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex mar riage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept."
Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia already allow gay marriage, according to The New York Times, and the majority of Americans (more than 70 percent) live in states that sanction it. Washington State legalized gay marriage in 2012, and the court's ruling will not affect same-sex marriage here. "It’s a matter of fundamental fairness,” Doug Honig, spokesperson for the ACLU of Washington, told The Seattle Times about Friday's historic ruling. "It’s been a long time coming." Honig noted that the ACLU filed its first marriage equality case in Washington in the early 1970s.
“Today’s historic court ruling is another big step in America's long road to justice for all," said Gov. Jay Inslee in a statement. "I was proud of our state for being the first in the nation to vote to recognize same-sex marriage ..."
President Obama spoke about the decision this morning from the Rose Garden before heading to Charleston to deliver the eulogy at the funeral of slain pastor and South Carolina state legislator Clementa C. Pinckney.
"Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle," the president began: "that we are all created equal. The project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times, a never ending quest to ensure those words ring true for every single American. The progress on this quest sometimes comes in small increments; sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes there are days like this when that slow steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt."
This moment, he continued, is the consequence "countless small acts of courage by millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out ... who were willing to endure bullying and taunts and stayed strong and came to believe in themselves … and slowly made an entire country realize that love is love."
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, praised the decision but noted that there's more work to do. "LGBT people are still denied work, bulled in our schools, and homelessness and poverty rates are still unacceptably high among LGBT people," he said, promising "to advocate and fight for policies that ensure equality and justice for the LGBT community."
Mayor Ed Murray, who was involved in the successful fight for the state's marriage equality law, celebrated the decision in a gathering at City Hall (full story here) .
Today's gay-marriage news promises to unsettle many Republican presidential hopefuls, the governors of states whose bans on gay marriage have just been upended and others who were opposed to legalization. But it should make for an especially festive Pride Weekend.