By Madilyn Ellsworth of Boyle & Feinberg, P.C. posted in Family Law on Wednesday, August 5, 2015.
On June 26, 2015, in a 5-4 landmark decision, the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy delivered the opinion for the majority, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license marriages between same-sex couples and to recognize same-sex marriages legally licensed and performed in a sister-state.
The majority opinion begins with a discussion of the social and legal evolution of both the institution of marriage and our nation’s attitude towards homosexuality. The Court noted that the right to marry has long been recognized as a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and found that this right applies with equal force to same-sex couples. The Court further found that the denial of marriage to same-sex couples violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, insofar as same-sex couples are denied the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising their fundamental right to marry.
In reaching its conclusion, the Court discussed four principles and traditions demonstrating the reasons the right to marry is fundamental under our Constitution. First, the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy. Second, the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals. Third, the right to marry safeguards children and families and draws meaning from related rights of child-rearing, procreation and education. Finally, our country’s legal precedents and traditions illustrate that marriage is a keystone of our social order, as evidenced by the numerous rights, benefits, and responsibilities afforded to married couples. Justice Kennedy wrote:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”
The Court found that the denial of marital status to same-sex couples disparages their choices, diminishes their personhood, and wrongly deprives them of their fundamental liberty interest protected by the Constitution. Accordingly, the Court concluded that the right to marry is inherent in the liberty of a person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, same-sex couples must be afforded the right to exercise their fundamental right to marry. Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas and Justice Alito all filed dissenting opinions. (2015).