Obergefell et al v Hodges Opinion – ES CliffsNotes

Gay rights activists gather outside the US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC on June 26, 2013. The US Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a controversial federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, in a major victory for supporters of same-sex marriage.The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) had denied married gay and lesbian couples in the United States the same rights and benefits that straight couples have long taken for granted. AFP PHOTO / MLADEN ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images

(Community Matters) My cliffs notes from reading the Supreme Court Decision – Obergefell et al v Hodges

Some of my favorite lines in the majority opinion granting marriage equality:

  • the petitioners, far from seeking to devalue marriage, seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities,
  • The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.
  • Held: The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.
  • The fundamental liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs.
  • Four principles and traditions demonstrate that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples: 1) the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy, 2) the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals, 3) it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education, 4) marriage is a keystone of the Nation’s social order.
  • The right of same-sex couples to marry is also derived from the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection
  • The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. Same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry.
  • While the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, individuals who are harmed need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right.
  • Were their intent to demean the revered idea and reality of marriage, the petitioners’ claims would be of a different order. . . To the contrary, it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions.
  • The limitation of marriage . . . . With that knowledge must come the recognition that laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.
  • The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era.
  • Indeed, in interpreting the Equal Protection Clause, the Court has recognized that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within our most fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged.
  • It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality.
  • Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry works a grave and continuing harm. The imposition of this disability on gays and lesbians serves to disrespect and subordinate them.
  • And the Equal Protection Clause, like the Due Process Clause, prohibits this unjustified infringement of the fundamental right to marry.
  • Thus, when the rights of persons are violated, “the Constitution requires redress by the courts,” notwithstanding the more general value of democratic decisionmaking. This holds true even when protecting individual rights affects issues of the utmost importance and sensitivity.
  • The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right.
  • No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.

Judge Roberts Dissent

  • Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration.
  • There is no serious dispute that, under our precedents, the Constitution protects a right to marry and requires States to apply their marriage laws equally. The real question in these cases is what constitutes “marriage,” or—more precisely—who decides what constitutes “marriage”?

Scalia’s Dissent

  • Those civil consequences—and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences—can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws. So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about marriage.
  • It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.

Thomas’ Dissent

  • To invoke the protection of the Due Process Clause at all—whether under a theory of “substantive” or “procedural” due process—a party must first identify a deprivation of “life, liberty, or property.” [seriously? denying the right to marry & all this conveys isn’t obvious?]
  • Had the majority allowed the definition of marriage to be left to the political process—as the Constitution requires—the People could have considered the religious liberty implications of deviating from the traditional definition as part of their deliberative process.

Alito’s Dissent

  • Until the federal courts intervened, the American people were engaged in a debate about whether their States should recognize same-sex marriage. The question in these cases, however, is not what States should do about same-sex marriage but whether the Constitution answers that question for them. It does not.
  • “What [those arguing in favor of a constitutional right to same sex marriage] seek, therefore, is not the protection of a deeply rooted right but the recognition of a very new right, and they seek this innovation not from a legislative body elected by the people, but from unelected judges.
  • its (majority) argument is that the fundamental purpose of marriage is to promote the well-being of those who choose to marry.  . . . This understanding of marriage, which focuses almost entirely on the happiness of persons who choose to marry, is shared by many people today, but it is not the traditional one. For millennia, marriage was inextricably linked to the one thing that only an opposite-sex couple can do: procreate.
  • I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.
  • Most Americans—understandably—will cheer or lament today’s decision because of their views on the issue of same-sex marriage. But all Americans, whatever their thinking on that issue, should worry about what the majority’s claim of power portends.

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