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U.S. Supreme Court Same Sex Marriage Summary

by | Jul 1, 2015 | Family Law |

The Supreme Court’s Ruling On Same-Sex Marriage:
Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio, Dept. of Health

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the controversial decision requiring States to allow the marriage of same-sex couples and recognize those same-sex marriages conducted in other States. Two separate issues were brought before the Court: (1) whether under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which grants equal protection under the law to all, requires States to license a marriage between two people of the same-sex; and (2) whether States, under the Fourteenth Amendment, have to recognize a marriage between two people of the same-sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State. The majority of the Court answered affirmatively to both, requiring States to allow couples who wish to participate in a same-sex marriage to obtain a marriage license and also mandating that States recognize marriages between two persons of the same sex from another State.

The decision was narrowly decided, 5 votes in favor and 4 votes against. The Justices finding in favor of the ruling cited to four bases for their decision, first, individual autonomy, which includes an individual’s right to personal choice concerning issues like marriage, contraception, family relationships, and child rearing, which necessarily includes who one chooses to marry, here a person of the same sex. The majority remarks on how the concept of marriage and the right to choose have both been ever evolving, from when marriages were arranged, to allowing interracial couples to marry, to now, where couples of the same-sex are provided equal protection under the law, allowing them to freely marry. Second, the majority argues that one’s fundamental right to marriage under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not exclude same-sex marriage. As marriage is a recognized fundamental right, certain greater protections are afforded to the right to ensure that it is not impeded in any way, including expulsion of unreasonable limitations on who one may marry. Third, the Court mentions the safeguards marriage provides to the children and families of the couple. The Court notes the inherent security marriage provides to children and the positive feeling one has being a member of a family that can be formally bonded by a marriage. And fourth, the necessity of marriage for social order, including the benefits conferred upon married couples concerning taxation, inheritance, property rights, hospital access, adoption, and medical decision making authority and the like, and how these benefits should be conferred upon all willing to bound themselves to another in a formal ceremony as marriage. The majority decision went on to highlight that same-sex couples are not trying to disrespect or diminish the sanctity of marriage, but rather have such a deep respect for the idea of marriage, that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.

The dissenting opinion, affirmed by four Justices, takes the stance that the issue of same-sex marriage is not up to the Supreme Court to decide. But instead, it is the majority of the court’s very action that courts all over the nation are not supposed to do — to replace the citizen’s votes for their own. The dissent acknowledges that this is a major social issue, but points out that, marriage, since the creation of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, has been an issue left to the discretion of the States and as such, is a decision for the State legislatures, not for the Courts. Justice Scalia, in his separate dissent, expresses concern for the overreaching of the Court and calls the majority opinion “profoundly incoherent,” citing to the lack of authority for which the majority opinion is based.

The initial release of the opinion resulted in an uproar from all sides, for and against. But with the dust settling from the decision handed down, many questions are left unanswered, such as: What does this mean for private business owners? What does this mean for assisted reproduction laws? Insurance policy coverage? What does this mean for custody disputes involving a parent not biologically related to the child? And what does this mean for states and their citizens’ First Amendment rights to freedom of religion? Is this legislating from the bench, or finally a resolution to an inevitable moral conclusion our society had to make?

These are questions that will undoubtedly be addressed in the years to come on a regular basis. Our society should expect to be hearing a lot about the collateral effects of this decision, and the natural progression of practical matters involving martial property, child-rearing, and moral or religious conflation with what is now legal mandate.

Inevitably, same-sex couples who now have the right to get married, also have the right to get divorced and split their community property in the same matter as heterosexual couples. The issue of child custody may not be as simple, but certainly, hiring a good divorce attorney would help.

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