In a 5-4 landmark decision, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the previous ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, and has granted same-sex couples the right to marry in any state. Here we provide a brief summary of the Court’s ruling on this monumental decision.
The Process for Determining if Equal Protection is Being Infringed Upon
To determine if equal protection under the law is being violated, the Court will first determine if a fundamental right exists. It does this by examining if the right is deeply rooted in American history and traditions.
Where there is no fundamental right, the Court applies a “rational basis test”: if the violation of the right is rationally related to a legitimate government purpose, then the law is held valid.
If the Court establishes that the right being violated is a fundamental right, it applies strict scrutiny. This test inquires into whether there is a compelling government interest being furthered by the violation of the right, and whether the law in question is narrowly tailored to address the government interest.
The Court’s Determination
The Court reasoned that the right to marry has long been recognized as a fundamental right protected by the Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, and that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply also to same-sex couples.
Those reasons include:
- the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy
- the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals
- protecting the right to marry safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education
- other Supreme Court cases and our country’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of the nation’s social order. “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.”
The Court went into detail in its majority opinion about the evolution of both opposite-sex marriage, going from arranged marriages where women had little rights, to interracial marriages; as well as the evolution of gay and lesbian rights in this country, how homosexual activity used to be seen as a mental illness and was criminalized, gays being barred from military service, etc.
Religious Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage
In response to people’s religious opposition to same-sex marriage, the Court had this to say:
Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur [sanction, approval, support] of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under 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.
The Court did reiterate, however, that those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious or other grounds are protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Finally, 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.
Why not vote on it?
If you are wondering why the Supreme Court wouldn’t leave the issue of same-sex marriage to the states (i.e., votes by the citizens), the Court said: “Of course, the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, so long as that process does not abridge fundamental rights.”
It went on:
An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act. The idea of the Constitution “was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes [changes, ups and downs] of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts.” West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, 638 (1943). This is why “fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” Ibid.
If you are a same-sex couple with legal questions regarding prenuptial or postnuptial agreements, divorce or separation, child custody, alimony, or more – contact George Gelb today for a free consultation. (561) 748-8000
Vero Beach clients call (772) 532-6009