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Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

In a 5 to 4 decision issued on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirements of equal protection and due process require a state to license marriages between two people of the same sex and to recognize marriages of two people of the same sex lawfully performed in another state.

Four principles and traditions

Central to the Supreme Court’s decision were four “principles and traditions” that demonstrate why marriage, as a fundamental right under the Constitution, applies to same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples:

  • First, the Court wrote that the “right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.” The Court likened the choice to marry to other choices that are protected by the Constitution, such as contraception, family relationships, procreation and childrearing. Marriage, wrote the court, is “about shap[ing] an individual’s destiny” and the “nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality,” is true for all couples, regardless of their sexual orientation.
  • The second principle on which the court relied was that “the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals.”
  • The third basis on which the court relied was that marriage “safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education.” Citing the fact that many gays and lesbians are parents, the Court concluded that “[e]xcluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry.”
  • The final basis on which the Court relied was the fact that the Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions “make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order.” Further, the Court noted that society has always made an effort to support and protect married couples by conferring on them both “symbolic recognition and material benefits.” According to the Court, theses benefits include: taxation, inheritance and property rights; rules of intestate succession; spousal privilege in the law of evidence; hospital access; medical decision-making authority; adoption rights; the right and benefits of survivors; birth and death certificates; professional ethics rules; campaign finance restrictions; workers’ compensation benefits; health insurance; and child custody, support and visitation rules. Excluding same-sex couples from this “constellation of benefits” results in marital burdens as well as “teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects.”

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