LGBT history was made today, as the U.S. Supreme Court announced its highly anticipated ruling today in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. By a 5-4 vote, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing the lead opinion, the justices declared that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States.
The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who concluded that: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. … [The challengers] ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
The ruling means that same-sex couples can now marry in all 50 states and U.S. territories, and that states must respect a same-sex couple’s marriage so long as it was legal where it was performed.
“In recognizing our rights and the dignity of our relationships, the court has granted Americans who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual a level of relationship recognition that never before existed,” Mazzoni Legal and Public Policy Director Thomas Ude, Jr., said. “Today’s ruling represents a significant milestone on the path to full equality for the LGBT community.”
“We are thrilled to mark this historic moment – and grateful to the many courageous individuals whose activism and commitment to justice over many years brought us to this day,” Mazzoni CEO Nurit Shein said, adding that: “For lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans this is not just a political victory, but an advance that has significant impact on all aspects of our lives.”
“While we celebrate today,” Shein said, “let us recognize that there are many critical issues that still must be addressed in order to ensure that LGBT Americans enjoy true equality and freedom from discrimination.”
There are numerous legal and financial benefits conferred by marriage relating to taxes, inheritance, social security, Veterans’ benefits and more. “Marriage is an important way for couples to protect each other and their families without carrying around an array of documents. This is an especially important option for lower-income couples,” Ude said.
This is the most significant ruling on the issue of same-sex marriage since U.S. v. Windsor in 2013, which struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and extended an array of federal benefits afforded by marriage to same-sex couples.
In his opinion, Justice Kennedy addressed the role of history and the evolution of our nation’s understanding of the full meaning of equal rights. “The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times,” he wrote. “The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a character protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.”
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Pennsylvania since May 2014, when a U.S. federal district court judge ruled that the Commonwealth’s 1996 statutory ban on recognizing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
“This ruling offers an important additional level of protection even for those couples who are already married, who can now be assured that their relationship will be recognized throughout the United States,” Ude explained.
For married same-sex couples with children, the ruling provides important protections and responsibilities, but does not solve all the complex recognition issues involved. For that reason, Mazzoni Legal Services advises any same-sex couple with children to consult a knowledgeable attorney about how to ensure full protection. In many cases an adoption or another court-order judgment would be necessary.