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Love Reigns Supreme

In a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that all Americans, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, have the right to marry whomever they love in all fifty states. This is a monumental decision for civil rights, in general, and an especially historic victory for gay rights activists. The case that led to this landmark decision was Obergefell v. Hodges, a case consolidated with three other same-sex marriage cases from Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee, similarly fighting for the right to marry and have it recognized in every state in the country. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, stating that gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to marry under the Constitution. The majority of the justices found that states must grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as well as acknowledge same-sex unions that were legally performed in other states. Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion.

In a bold move, each of the four dissenting justices wrote individual opinions. In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the Constitution does not endorse same-sex marriage. “If you are among the many Americans . . . who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. . . . Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits,” he encourages, but then declares: “But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.” As one would expect, Justice Scalia wrote his own critical dissent that ran for eight pages alone.

In the majority opinion, the justices stated numerous reasons same-sex marriage should be allowed. They noted the right to marriage is an inherent aspect of individual autonomy: a decision to marry is one of the most personal decisions that an individual can make. They also noted that gay Americans have the right to be intimately associated with one another in ways more significant than the mere freedom from laws banning homosexuality. The majority concluded that the right for same-sex couples to marry is protected under the 14th Amendment, writing that gays and lesbians, like every other citizen, are protected by the equal protection and due process clauses. “Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.”