The Supreme Court has declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States.
Gay and lesbian couples already can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The court's ruling on Friday means the remaining 14 states in the South and Midwest, including Kentucky and Tennessee, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.
The outcome is the culmination of two decades of Supreme Court litigation over marriage, and gay rights generally.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, just as he did in the court's previous three major gay rights cases dating back to 1996.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. [The petitioners] ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right,” Kennedy wrote.
As expected, Kennedy was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts, considered a wild card in the case, wrote a dissent joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, who each filed dissents of their own.
“If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. 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,” Roberts said, making the rare decision to read part of his opinion from the bench.
The case, Obergefell v. Hodges, was named for lead plaintiff Jim Obergefell, an Ohio man who sued the state because it wouldn’t list him as a surviving spouse on his husband’s death certificate. The two had been married in Maryland before his husband, John, died of ALS. (Hodges is the director of the Ohio Department of Health.)
The combined case also included plaintiffs from three other states that don’t currently recognize same-sex marriages: Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee.
The Court is still due to announce rulings on mandatory minimums for violent gun offenders, power plant pollution, lethal injection drugs, and gerrymandering.