The United States Supreme Court issued a huge victory today for proponents of marriage equality and equal protection through its ruling in Obergefell, et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Dept. of Health, et al. The opinion states:
“The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold – and it now does hold-that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.” Slip Op. at 28.
Today’s five-to-four decision expands the rights of same-sex couples to marry and receive the same protections afforded opposite-sex couples nationwide. LGBTQ persons can no longer lawfully be denied the right to marry or have their spouse and children recognized as such under the law.
Following the watershed decision in United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013) invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as the union of a man and woman in federal law, same-sex couples have exercised their right to wed only in states which allow and/or recognize same-sex marriage. Plaintiffs, fourteen same-sex couples and two men whose partners are deceased, demonstrated the injury suffered by those denied the rights and benefits of marriage afforded to opposite-sex couples. For example, Plaintiff James Obergefell, met his partner over two decades ago and married his partner in Maryland months before his partner’s death as a result of a debilitating disease. Despite making a committed union with his partner, Obergefell was not listed on his partner’s death certificate as his spouse in their home state of Ohio. Plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse celebrated a commitment ceremony in Michigan before expanding their family to include three special needs children. Yet, due to Michigan’s prohibitions on same-sex couple adoption, if tragedy were to strike yet the parent prohibited from adopting the child survived, their children could be considered orphaned.
The Supreme Court addressed the question of whether the Constitution compels the right to marry for same-sex couples under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The majority opinion held that marriage is a fundamental right under the Constitution and could no longer be denied same-sex couples under the law. Drawing from the decisions in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374 (1978), and Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), the Court found the right of same-sex couples to marry inherent in the concept of individual autonomy and fundamental because of the support it provides to the union of two committed individuals. The Court held that basic components of many marriages related to child-rearing, procreation, and education also supported their conclusion. Additionally, the Court identified precedent protecting the right of married couples not to procreate to reject respondent’s arguments that the right to marry must be conditioned on “the capacity or commitment to procreate.” Slip Op. at 16. The Court discussed rights and protections denied to same-sex couples, many of which concern workers’ rights including rights and benefits of survivors, health insurance, and workers’ compensation benefits, to conclude that “[u]nder the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.” Slip Op. at 19.
Bryan Schwartz Law applauds the Supreme Court for overruling the infringement of central precepts of equality as it concerns same-sex couples. The firm joins in celebrating this groundbreaking victory for marriage equality.