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Religious Tolerance logo

The Obergefell v. Hodges case before the U.S. Supreme Court
involving appeals of 4 gay marriage (SSM) cases, from
Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, & Tennessee.

Part 32: 2015-JUNE-26:
The U.S. Supreme Court rules that same-
sex marriage (a.k.a. gay marriage) is to
become available across all the United States,
almost.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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gavel2015-JUN-26: The High Court issued a ruling that will legalize SSM everywhere in the U.S. where gay marriage bans exist:

On JUN-25, a same-sex couple marrying in the United States could only marry in the District of Columbia, in one of 37 states, or in the territory of Guam.

On the morning of JUN-26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the consolidated case Obergefell v. Hodges. Perhaps by coincidence, this date was the:

  • Second anniversary of the same Court's ruling in Wilson v. United States, which overturned part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. As a result, the federal government was required to recognize some legally registered same-sex marriages, and to provide the couples with access to 1,138 federal programs, benefits and protections. That is, to treat them in the same way as opposite-sex couples have been given access.

  • 12th anniversary of the High Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas which decriminalized same-gender sexual behavior by adults in private.

  • Close to the 46th anniversary of the riot in the Stonewall Inn in New York City. This was the event that triggered the LGBT civil rights movement,.

All three rulings were written by Justice Kennedy. Justice Scalia always took the minority position. In the two previous cases, he correctly predicted in his dissenting opinions that the cases would eventually contribute to the eventual arrival of marriage equality across the land.

Since the LGBT community traditionally schedules most Gay Pride celebrations during the month of June, it is quite possible that JUN-26 might someday become a LGBT holiday.

As most constitutional pundits had predicted, the Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. The vote was 5 to 4. The District of Columbia, all 50 states, and all 5 territories will be required to:

  • Issue marriage licenses and register the marriages of qualified same-sex couples. Such couples will have to meet the same restrictions as faced by opposite-sex couples, typically:

    • Both engaged partners must meet the minimum age for marriage as set by the district, state or territory where they are marrying. That is usually 18 years-of-age, although Nebraska specifies 19 and Mississippi specifies 21 years-of-age. Some states offer exceptions if the couples have parental consent to be married.

    • The couple must not be too closely related. Some states allow first cousins to marry; most do not, because it doubles the chances of genetic defects in any children that they have, compared to unrelated spouses.

  • Recognize gay marriages that have been legally solemnized out-of-state. That is, marriages will be handled like automobile licenses. They will be recognized throughout the country, no matter where they were issued.

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The first paragraphs of the syllabus of the Supreme Court's majority ruling states:

"No. 14–556. Argued April 28, 2015—Decided June 26, 2015.

Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The petitioners, 14 same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners are deceased, filed suits in Federal District Courts in their home States, claiming that respondent state officials violate the Fourteenth Amendment [of the federal Constitution] by denying them the right to marry or to have marriages lawfully performed in another State given full recognition. Each District Court ruled in petitioners’ favor, but the Sixth Circuit consolidated the cases and [a three-judge panel] reversed [the lower court's decision].

Held: The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State." 1

[Character emphasis was not in the original]

The ruling of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court referred to above was by a three-judge panel of that court. Their vote was 2:1 against marriage equality. However, the 4th, 9th, and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeal had all previously voted in favor of marriage equality. This "circuit split" in which different Circuit Courts reached opposite conclusions, convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the consolidated case. The case involves similar gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, & Tennessee.

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An updated marriage map for the 50 U.S. States by Equality NC:

It may take a while before all of the counties in all of the states and territories align their procedures in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. However, this appears to be what the future status of gay marriage in the U.S. will be in the near future:

Updated US marriage map

In addition to gay marriage becoming the law of the land in the United States, it is also a routine event in Canada which shares the Northern border of the United States. It is also becoming common in Mexico to the South, although same-sex couples there have to go through a circuitous procedure to marry. Marriage equality has also become routine throughout much of South America. Western Europe. and South Africa. In contrast, same-sex couples in some predominately Muslim countries can find themselves charged with a capital crime and executed if found guilty of same-gender sexual behavior.

Not shown on the map are the United States' five territories. Of these, American Samoa in the Pacific Ocean is a special case. The High Court ruled in Obergefell that all qualified American citizens have at fundamental right to marry, whether their partner is of the same or opposite gender. Any person born in the other four unincorporated U.S. territories -- Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- is automatically recognized to be a U.S. citizen with that right. But things work differently in American Samoa. People born there are considered American nationals, not American citizens -- unless one of their parents happens to be an American citizen. Since early July, the territorial government has been considering whether to allow gay marriages there.

In addition, only a minority of tribal nations in the U.S. are allowing gay marriages.

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The High Court's majority ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy states:

"[t]he court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them. ..."

"It is demeaning to lock same-sex couples out of a central institution of the Nation’s society, for they too may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage."

His ruling concludes with the following remarkable passage:

"... it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex. ..."

"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 judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered."

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Webmaster's note:

I think that many readers of these passages will find their eyes filling with tears -- but for very different reasons, mostly joy, anticipation, frustration, betrayal, or anger!

The last time such strong emotions were caused by the Supreme Court redefining marriages was probably almost half a century ago in its ruling in Loving v. Virginia. That was the decision that legalized interracial marriage in 16 states, making such marriages available across the U.S.

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This topic is continued in the next essay

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Supreme Court of the United States: Syllabus: Obergefell et al. v. Hodges..." Supreme Court, 2015-APR-26, at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/

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How you may have arrived here:

Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2015-JUN-26
Last modified: 2015-OCT-12
Author: B.A. Robinson
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