Fri | Oct 20, 2017

US Supreme Court greenlights nationwide gay marriage

Published:Saturday | June 27, 2015 | 12:00 AM
A flag is held up across the street from City Hall in San Francisco, California yesterday, after the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
The crowd celebrates outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, yesterday, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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WASHINGTON (AP):

Same-sex couples won the right to marry nationwide yesterday as a divided Supreme Court handed a crowning victory to the gay-rights movement, setting off a jubilant cascade of long-delayed weddings in states where they had been forbidden.

"No longer may this liberty be denied," said Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The vote was narrow - 5-4 - but Kennedy's majority opinion was clear and firm: "The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry."

The ruling will put an end to same-sex marriage bans in the 14 states that still maintain them and provide an exclamation point for breathtaking changes in the nation's social norms in recent years. As recent as last October, just over one-third of the states permitted gay marriages.

Kennedy's reading of the ruling elicited tears in the courtroom, euphoria outside, and the immediate issuance of marriage licences to same-sex couples in at least eight states. In Dallas, Kenneth Denson said he and Gabriel Mendez had been legally married in 2013 in California but "we're Texans; we want to get married in Texas".

In praise of the decision, President Barack Obama called it "justice that arrives like a thunderbolt".

Four of the court's justices were not cheering. The dissenters accused their colleagues of usurping power that belongs to the states and to voters and short-circuiting a national debate about same-sex marriage.

"This court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in dissent. Roberts read a summary of his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in nearly 10 years as chief justice.

"If you are among the many Americans, of whatever sexual orientation, who favour expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision," Roberts said. "But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it."

judicial putsch

Justice Antonin Scalia said he was not concerned so much about same-sex marriage as "this court's threat to American democracy". He termed the decision a "judicial putsch". Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas also dissented.

Several religious organisations criticised the decision.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops said it was "profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage".

Kennedy said nothing in the court's ruling would force religions to condone, much less perform, weddings to which they object. And he said the couples seeking the right to marry should not have to wait for the political branches of government to act.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex couples to marry on the same basis as heterosexuals, he said

"The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The nation's courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter," Kennedy wrote.

"No union is more profound than marriage," Kennedy wrote, joined by the court's four more liberal justices.

The stories of the people asking for the right to marry "reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honour their spouses' memory, joined by its bond," Kennedy said.

As he read his opinion, spectators in the courtroom wiped away tears when the import of the decision became clear. One of those in the audience was James Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court fight.

equal love

Outside, Obergefell held up a photo of his late spouse, John Arthur, and said the ruling establishes that "our love is equal". He added, "This is for you, John."

Obama placed a congratulatory phone call to Obergefell, which he took amid a throng of reporters outside the courthouse.

Speaking a few minutes later at the White House, Obama praised the decision as an affirmation of the principle that "all Americans are created equal".

The crowd in front of the courthouse at the top of Capitol Hill grew in the minutes following the ruling. The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, DC, sang the Star-Spangled Banner. Motorists honked their horns in support as they passed by the crowd, which included a smattering of same-sex marriage opponents.

The ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration. But county clerks in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas began issuing licences to same-sex couples within hours of the decision.