U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of National Recognition for Same-Sex Marriage
On the morning of June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court made a landmark 5-4 ruling in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. The historic ruling supersedes states’ rights not to recognize gay marriage, which the Supreme Court found to be unconstitutional in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Family law lawyer Darwin Overson explains what led up to the ruling.
Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage Nationwide
In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them.” Justice Kennedy added further, “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.”
Justice Kennedy was joined in the majority opinion by historically liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Traditionally conservative Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. were joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in their dissent, writing separate opinions.
Unimpressed by the sentiment, Justice Scalia sharply criticized Justice Kennedy, writing, “The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic. Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent.” Justice Scalia further added, “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. Until the courts put a stop to it, public debate over same-sex marriage displayed American democracy at its best,” in fact calling the ruling a “threat to democracy.”
Recent opinion polls indicate that, as reflected by the ruling, a slight majority of Americans thinks otherwise. Approximately 60% support same-sex marriage while about 40% are opposed. Prior to June 26, a majority 38 states recognized rights to same-sex marriages (albeit to varying degrees).
Like marriage equality itself, Obergefell v. Hodges was years in the making. In July of 2013, Cincinnati-based couple James Obergefell and John Arthur filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Southern District of Ohio. With Arthur terminally ill and suffering from ALS — the same illness suffered by renowned physicist Stephen Hawking — Obergefell sought to arrange identification as Arthur’s surviving spouse on the death certificate. The couple claimed they had been discriminated against after the Ohio Attorney General’s office announced its intent to protect the state’s ban on gay marriage despite the Ohio Registrar’s acknowledgement that discrimination was unconstitutional.
At that time, the case was known as Obergefell v. Kasich. As legal proceedings continued, the case took on additional titles — first Obergefell v. Wymyslo, and later, Obergefell v. Himes — before becoming known as Obergefell v. Hodges, in itself a consolidation of cases arising in Tennessee (Tanco v. Haslam), Kentucky (Bourke v. Beshear), and Michigan (DeBoer v. Snyder). The Supreme Court looked to these cases when making its ruling.
Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Found Unconstitutional
Evaluation of the Defense of Marriage Act proved critical to the landmark ruling. The Defense of Marriage Act, more commonly known as DOMA, was enacted by Congress in 1996 in order to grant states the right not to recognize same-sex marriage, regardless of whether same-sex marriage was recognized in other states.
In particular, Section 3 of DOMA came under heavy criticism in the years leading up to Obergefell. Section 3 legally defined marriage as an exclusively heterosexual bond, stating, “The word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
Ironically, former President Bill Clinton — who signed DOMA into law — later fought for its repeal, a battle which was eventually taken up by the Obama administration. In 2013 in United States v. Windsor, nearly two decades after the law was first enacted, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment, which provides a due process clause.
How will the effects of the Obergefell ruling be received in Utah? Only time will tell. One on hand, Utah is traditionally a conservative state. On the other, same-sex marriage has been legal in Utah since December 20, 2013.
Only two facts are certain. One is that Obergefell represents a tremendous victory for Utah’s LGBT community and indeed, same-sex couples throughout the United States. The other is that all couples, regardless of orientation, stand to benefit from creating strong prenuptial agreements before getting married. A prenup can help you manage your debts, assets, spousal responsibilities, and many other important legal and financial aspects of marriage. With a few exceptions, your prenup can include almost anything you’d like it to.
If you’re thinking about getting married in Utah, call prenuptial agreements lawyer Darwin Overson at (801) 733-1308 to talk about how a prenup can help you in a free, completely private legal consultation. Darwin also handles family law matters such as adoption, divorce, child custody, and child support in the Salt Lake City area and throughout Utah.