US Supreme Court rules same-sex marriage legal

Landmark decision paves way for nationwide unions, which Spain has allowed since 2005

Gay rights activists celebrating in front of the Supreme Court.
Gay rights activists celebrating in front of the Supreme Court.ALEX WONG (AFP)

Same-sex marriage advocates scored their greatest victory in years this Friday, when the US Supreme Court struck down laws banning gay unions in several states.

The ruling, which paves the way for same-sex couples to get married across the country, is already being compared with the 1954 decision making racial segregation in public schools illegal, and with the 1973 Roe vs Wade landmark ruling that made abortion a right.

It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage”

US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

“This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts – when all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free,” said President Barack Obama. “This ruling is a victory for America.”

The Supreme Court establishes that states have the obligation to extend marriage licenses to same-sex couples under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees that all citizens are equal before the law.

Spain as a reference

El Pais

Spanish lawmakers approved same-sex marriage on July 3, 2005 under the Socialist administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

This made Spain the third country in the world to allow same-sex couples to marry, after the Netherlands and Belgium. Canada passed similar legislation just days later.

In November 2012, Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that the law was completely constitutional, in reply to an appeal filed by the conservative Popular Party (PP).

The PP had argued that the law modified the “secular, constitutional and legal conception of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision, said that the plaintiffs seek the right to be married out of their profound respect for this institution.

“Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right,” wrote Kennedy.

The decision is the culmination of a decades-long struggle by gay rights activists, and illustrates the radical change undergone by public opinion, politicians and judges in a short period of time.

Ten years ago, same-sex marriage was only legal in one state, all the main Democratic and Republican leaders opposed it, and candidates who publicly opposed gay matrimony did well at the polls.

By comparison, same-sex marriage is now legal in 36 states, the federal government recognizes them for administrative purposes such as tax filings, and the Armed Forces accept gay and lesbian servicemen and women.

Justice Kennedy’s vote was decisive, as it was two years ago in a ruling that declared that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman was unconstitutional.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” wrote Justice Kennedy in this case. “It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage.”

On Friday, the Supreme Court justices ruled on four related cases brought by 12 couples. All four required that the magistrates answer two questions: whether states must allow same-sex couples to marry and whether they must recognize such marriages performed elsewhere.

In one of the four cases, one plaintiff said his state of residence did not recognize him as a widower because it never accepted his same-sex marriage, which was performed in a different state. In another case, a lesbian couple challenged the fact that only one of them was allowed to adopt their four children, because their marriage license was not recognized by their state of residence.

More information
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The new meaning of marriage

The ruling rides a wave of change being embraced by citizens as well as by political and business leaders. Polls show that most Americans now support full equal rights for homosexuals.

This is not the first time that a decision by the nine justices who sit on the Supreme Court has transformed the country through their interpretation of the US Constitution. Landmark decisions include racial segregation, abortion rights and George W. Bush’s victory in the contested presidential elections of 2000.

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