On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States held, in Obergefell v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, Et Al., that the 14th 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.
Since the establishment of the Supreme Court in 1789, landmark decisions, similar to the opinion formed on June 26th, have changed America, and will continue to do so. Whether we agree with the Supreme Court’s decisions or not, they are a part of our history and have shifted America. And whether we agree or not with the decision made on Friday, it will be one that fills the history books for our children’s children to read.
The Court, in this case, points out that marriage is a union that has evolved over time. At one time marriage was an arrangement, made by the parents, that was based on political, religious, and financial concerns. And before women began to gain legal, political, and property rights, a married man and woman were treated by the State as a single, male-dominated legal body.
In the written opinion, the Supreme Court explains that there are four principles and traditions that demonstrate the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution and that all four apply equally to same sex marriages.
First the Court’s decision is based off of the inherited rights a person has in regards to personal choice in marriage. The Court illustrates that marital decisions are very intimate to a person, no matter their sexual orientation. Second, the Court explains that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals. Thirdly, the Court states that without the recognition of marriage, and the stability that the term offers, children will be shamed with disgrace by knowing that their family is insignificant. The Court goes on to demonstrate that children raised by unmarried parents, will face an uncertain family life. Thus, the Court explained, the marriage laws that were at issue harm children raised by same-sex couples. Finally the Court positioned its argument on the basis of National traditions, explaining that marriage is a keystone of the Nation’s social order. Same-sex couples are denied the same benefits that are linked to heterosexual marriages, such as, taxation, inheritance and property rights, rules of intestate succession, spousal privilege in the law of evidence, hospital access, medical decision making, adoption rights, health insurance, etc., and the court reasons that it is demeaning to not allow same-sex couples these same benefits.
The decision was derived from the 14th Amendment, the Due Process Clause, that states: “no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Supreme Court reveals that it is natural to not always see injustice in our own times. The court goes on to say that the drafters of the 14th Amendment could not have considered what the reach of freedom would define as time progressed, so they allocated future generations to protect the rights of the people as we learn what freedom is.
In the opinion of the court, the court describes some of the stories of the same-sex petitioners, and the hardships the couples and, in some cases their children, have faced because of the old laws. The court shares these stores in the opinion to show that the petitioners are not seeking to slander the union of marriage, but rather to live their lives, joined by the bond that marriage brings.
So, in general, what does this mean?
Well, exactly what the holding says; a State is required 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.
What does this mean for divorce?
That is a statistic that will be interesting to watch as the time progresses. Statistically divorce is low at this time, but some sources explain that this is due to there being fewer marriages. Because same-sex marriage is no longer outlawed, it will be interesting to see how these rates change over the years. Will divorce rates rise as same-sex couples begin to exchange their vows? Only time will tell. Whatever the outcome, maybe the hallmark-like words authored by Justice Kennedy in the Supreme Court opinion will leave couples, no matter their orientation, fixated on love and positivism:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a martial 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…”