On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Obergefell v. Hodges, No. 14-556, resolving three consolidated appeals. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses guarantee same-sex couples the right to marry in all states and require states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Michigan, Kentucky, and Ohio each define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In three separate lawsuits, 14 same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners were deceased sued the state officials responsible for enforcing those state laws. All three cases presented the question of whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to recognize a same-sex marriage licensed and performed in a state where same-sex marriage is legal. The Michigan and Kentucky cases presented the additional question of whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license same-sex marriages itself. Each district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and invalidated the challenged same-sex marriage prohibition. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals consolidated the cases and reversed, holding that states have no constitutional obligation to license same-sex marriages or to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The Supreme Court reversed, holding both that states must license same-sex marriages and that they must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The Court first traced the “transcendent importance of marriage” and its historical and legal evolution, then turned to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Recognizing that same-sex marriage bans had long seemed “natural and just,” the Court concluded that their “inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest.” With that knowledge, the Court held that “laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.”
The Court also considered the “interlocking nature” of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. Because barring same-sex couples from exercising a fundamental right denies them the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples, the Court held that the Equal Protection Clause also prohibits states from depriving same-sex couples of the right to marry. The Court also held that states may not refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another state “on the ground of its same-sex character.”
Although the Court rejected the states’ arguments on both questions presented, it emphasized that the First Amendment ensures that opponents of same-sex marriage “may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction.”
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion for the Court, in which Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined. Chief Justice Roberts filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Scalia and Thomas joined. Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Thomas joined. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Scalia joined. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Scalia and Thomas joined.