The United States Supreme Court, in a landmark and historical decision, ruled recently that the Constitution ensures the right of same-sex couples to marry.
The decision was a close one, 5-4, meaning that 5 Justices agreed with the decision and 4 disagreed. In its Opinion, The Court answered two questions: 1) Does the 14th Amendment require States to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? And 2) Does the 14th Amendment require a State to recognize a same-sex marriage licensed and performed in another state which doesn’t grant that right?
The answers to these questions were yes, and yes. The majority ruled that the 14th Amendment equal protection and due process clauses guarantee same-sex marriage rights and that marriage is a fundamental right. Practically speaking, this means that states are required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples; that marriages among same-sex couples shall have the same legal effect as heterosexual marriage; and that every state in the Union is required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, just as they would recognize heterosexual marriages performed in other states.
The decision was made in response to marriage restrictions in four states: Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Michigan, whose cases had been consolidated under the name Obergefell v. Hodges. Specifically, the Court overturned those states’ constitutional amendments that provided that only marriage between “one man and one woman” was valid and to be recognized. The Court also overturned state restrictions which prohibited the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. The High Court’s decision in Obergefell overturned those restrictions and opened up marriage rights to same-sex couples nationwide.
Those four states were among the few that still limited marriage to heterosexuals. Before the Obergefell decision, 37 states as well as the District of Columbia allowed same-sex marriage, either due to a court ruling or the state’s action.
The effects of the decision are profound. It provides that same-sex marriages that have already been performed must be recognized in every state in the Union, including, of course, Florida. In fact, at this point, the only way to, effectively, undo what the Court has done would be to actually amend the U.S. Constitution.
The decision also requires all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. While stories of Clerks of Court refusing to issue marriage licenses have made the news in the past, these persons who continue to refuse to issue said licenses based on religious or other beliefs may only do so if they resign from their position.
Justice Kennedy, who wrote for the Majority, explained the Majority’s position as follows:
“The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources…. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era. Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied.” Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015).
Of course, the legalization of same-sex marriage also means legalization of same-sex divorce. If you have a family law problem, call the skilled attorneys at Saunders Law Group. We are here to help.