Supreme Court legalises gay marriage across US in landmark ruling
WASHINGTON: In a long-sought victory for the gay rights movement, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
Justice Anthony M Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the 5 to 4 decision. He was joined by the court’s four more liberal justices.
The decision, the culmination of decades of litigation and activism, came against the backdrop of fast-moving changes in public opinion, with polls indicating that most Americans now approve of same-sex marriage.
Justice Kennedy said gay and lesbian couples had a fundamental right to marry. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” he wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”
“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage,” Justice Kennedy said of the couples challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfilment 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.”
Chief Justice John G Roberts Jr, in a dissent joined by Justice Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said the Constitution had nothing to say on the subject.
“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favors expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits.
But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.” In a second dissent, Justice Scalia mocked Justice Kennedy’s soaring language. “The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic,” Justice Scalia wrote of his colleague’s work. “Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent.”
As Justice Kennedy finished announcing his opinion, several attendees seated in the bar section of the court’s gallery wiped away tears, while others grinned and exchanged embraces.
Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in 2010, was on hand for the decision and many of the justices’ clerks took seats in the chamber, which was nearly full as the ruling was announced.
Largely as a consequence of the Supreme Court’s decision not to act, the number of states allowing same-sex marriage has since grown to 36, and more than 70 percent of Americans live in places where gay couples can marry.
The court did not agree to resolve the issue for the rest of the nation until January, in cases filed by gay and lesbian couples in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The court heard extended arguments in April, and the justices seemed sharply divided over what the Constitution has to say about same-sex marriage.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said their clients had a fundamental right to marry and to equal protection, adding that the bans they challenged demeaned their dignity, imposed countless practical difficulties and inflicted particular harm on their children.
The Obama administration, which had gradually come to embrace the cause of same-sex marriage, was unequivocal in urging the justices to rule for the plaintiffs.
Reaction came swiftly. President Barack Obama, the first sitting president to support gay marriage, said on Twitter, "Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else."
Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, wrote on Twitter she was 'proud to celebrate a historic victory for marriage equality'. Until 2013, she had long said she was opposed to same-sex marriages, but said her view had since 'evolved'.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said, "This flawed, failed decision is an out-of-control act of unconstitutional judicial tyranny." Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush added, "Guided by my faith, I believe in traditional marriage. I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision."
The decision follows rapid changes in attitudes and policies toward gay marriage in America. It was not until 2003 that the Supreme Court threw out state laws banning gay sex. And it was not until 2004 that the Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Gay marriage has gained increasing acceptance in opinion polls in recent years, particularly among younger Americans.
Gay marriage also is gaining acceptance in other Western countries. Last month in Ireland, voters backed same-sex marriage by a landslide in a referendum that marked a dramatic social shift in the traditionally Roman Catholic country.
Ireland followed several Western European countries including Britain, France and Spain in allowing gay marriage, which is also legal in South Africa, Brazil and Canada. But homosexuality remains taboo and often illegal in many parts of Africa and Asia.
The Supreme Court's ruling came in a consolidated case pulling together challenges filed by same-sex couples to gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
Same-sex marriage was legal in 36 states and Washington, D.C.. In a 37th, Alabama, a federal court struck down the gay-marriage ban but the state Supreme Court has stopped local officials from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
Opponents say same-sex marriage legality should be decided by states, not judges. Some opponents argue it is an affront to traditional marriage between a man and a woman and that the Bible condemns homosexuality.
The emotions of the issue were apparent during the court's April 28 oral arguments in the case when a protester in the courtroom shouted at the justices that they would 'burn in hell' if they backed gay marriage.
The Obama administration argued on the side of the same-sex marriage advocates. He has said he hoped the court issued a ruling preventing states from banning gay marriage.
The legal repercussions for same-sex couples are broad, affecting not just their right to marry but also their right to be recognized as a spouse or parent on birth and death certificates and other legal papers.
Big business had urged the justices to support gay marriage, saying in a brief submitted in the case that inconsistent state laws impose burdens on companies and that marriage bans can conflict with corporate anti-discrimination and diversity policies. (With agency inputs)