Same-sex marriages are now legal across the entire United States after a historic supreme court ruling deemed attempts by conservatives to ban them unconstitutional.
In a case which might prove to be one of the most important civil rights cases in a generation, five of the nine court justices declared that the right to marriage equality was enshrined under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.
The federal-level case – which began after an Ohio man sued the state to get his name listed on his late husband’s death certificate –highlights the victory made by LGBT rights activists, high-powered attorneys, and couples waiting decades for justices to rule.
The ruling, skewed favorably by the deciding vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy, means that gay marriage will now be legal in all 50 states, rising from the previous 37.
Kennedy, along with four liberal justices, rejected claims made by lawyers during the lengthy two and a half hours of legal argument in April stating that marriage was defined by law solely to encourage procreation among stable family units, which implies that it would only be applicable to men and women.
Constitution: liberty to all
“The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,” Kennedy wrote for his support of the majority.
He added: “the petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.”
In a crucial move, the majority ruling argues that the court has frequently exercised jurisdiction over the definition of marriage in prior cases, deeming their intervention within the means of the constitution and, thus, justified.
Kennedy also wrote: “This Court’s cases have expressed constitutional principles of broader reach. In defining the right to marry these cases have identified essential attributes of that right based in history, tradition, and other constitutional liberties inherent in this intimate bond.”
The victory prompted cheers and jubilation on the streets, highlighted by euphoric scenes on the steps of the court.
“Today marks the culmination of a decades-long campaign in the court of public opinion and in the courts of law,” said the founder of Freedom to Marry Evan Wolfson. “And while more remains to be done on many fronts, we can celebrate knowing that fairness and love (and much hard work) have won the day.”
The nation’s highest court last weighed marriage equality in 2012 when challenges against California’s effective ban on same-sex marriages, known as Proposition 8, took place. The justices then ruled in favor of marriage equality but shied away from the question of whether gay marriage was a constitutional right.
Nonetheless, the rulings propelled a wave of decisions among courts throughout the country that did away with state-level bans on same-sex marriage and hastened a trend that has seen the number of states allowing such marriages rise from only two in 2008 to all 50 in 2015 – in addition to the District of Columbia, where a national celebration started on Friday morning.