A flag of many colors: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. This is the LGBTQ+ flag.

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Obergefell v. Hodges was a landmark case that gave people who are LGBTQ+ the right to marry the person that they love. In this blog post, I will provide plenty of information about the case and how it positively affected a group who were previously not allowed to marry their partner.

NCLR (National Center for Lesbian Rights) posted a press release on June 26, 2020, titled: “NCLR Celebrates Five Year-Anniversary of Obergefell, Historic Supreme Court Ruling On Marriage Equality” From the press release:

“Obergefell was about much more than simply winning the freedom to marry.”

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) today joins with millions of LGBTQ people and allies in celebrating the five-year anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling establishing marriage equality in all 50 states.

On June 26, 2015, the Court issued a historic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges holding that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry and to all of the protections and benefits provided by marriage. Today also marks the seven-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, striking down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples, and the seventeenth anniversary of Lawrence v. Texas which struck down state laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy.

NCLR was proud to represent three same-sex couples from Tennessee whose case was heard by the Supreme Court along with Obergefell and two other cases…

…NCLR litigated Tanco v. Haslam, the Tennessee marriage case that was consolidated and decided with Obergefell, with Abby Rubenfeld, one of the most storied civil rights litigators in the LGBTQ movement, as well as: Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, Thomas Brown, John Day, Paul Kellogg, Joshua Goldstein, Samira Omerovic, and Emerson Siegel of Ropes & Gray LLP; William Harbison, Phillip Cramer, Scott Hickman and John Farrianger of Sherrard & Roe, PLC; Maureen Holland; Regina Lambert, and David Codell…

…In the decades preceding Obergefell, NCLR’s legal team played a leading role in securing marriage equality in a number of key states. In 2008, NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter argued before the California Supreme Court in In re Marriage Cases, a landmark case that made California the second state in the country to permit same-sex couples to marry. When California voters subsequently enacted Proposition 8, re-imposing a marriage ban, NCLR won another state supreme court case holding that marriages that had taken place were valid and could not be retroactively nullified.

In addition, to California, NCLR won marriage equality victories in Utah, Idaho, Florida, Alabama, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming…

Constitutional Accountability Center provided some background about the case:

Obergefell v. Hodges, and three cases consolidated with it by the Supreme Court – Tanco v. Haslam, DeBoer v. Snyder, and Bourke v. Beshear – were federal-court challenges to state laws and constitutional amendments adopted by the voters of Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, and Kentucky that prohibited same-sex couples from marrying and/or forbid the state from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples lawfully entered into in other states.

On November 6, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in an opinion written by Judge Jeffery Sutton (and joined by Judge Deborah Cook), upheld the discriminatory marriage laws of each of those four states. Judge Martha Daughtrey dissented.

With this decision, the Sixth Circuit became the first federal court of appeals since United States v. Windsor to uphold a state law denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry, creating a split among the circuits. The plaintiffs challenging these laws asked the Supreme Court to review the Sixth Circuit’s decision, and on January 16, 2015, the Court agreed to do so, consolidating all four cases for purposes of review. In Obergefell and the cases consolidated with it the Court considered two questions: (1) whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license marriages between two people of the same sex, and (2) whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to recognize same-sex marriages legally entered into in other states.

On March 6, 2015, CAC filed an amicus curiae brief in the consolidated cases, urging the Supreme Court to reverse the Sixth Circuit’s ruling. Our brief (CAC) demonstrated that in denying same-sex couples the right to marry and empowering the people of Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky to impose a badge of inferiority on those couples, the Sixth Circuit “misapprehended the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection… and disregarded vital principles of constitutional supremacy.” As the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, “[states] cannot use the democratic process to write inequality into law or deny to minorities core aspects of liberty.” Contrary to Judge Sutton’s opinion, there is simply no “will of the majority” exception to the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of individual liberty against state infringement and its guarantee of equality under the law.

The court heard the oral argument on April 28, 2015…

Legal Defense Fund posted information about the Obergefell v. Hodges court case:

In March 2015, LDF filed an amicus brief in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that ultimately recognized marriage equality. The brief explained that the arguments advanced against marriage equality were the same as those that were raised – and rejected – by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia. LDF’s brief also noted that because there is a long history of discrimination and excluding against the LGBTQ+ community – similar to the history of discrimination against the Black community – state bans on same-sex marriage relegate gays and lesbians to an unequal and inferior status as a group.

LDF’s argument was central to the Court’s decision, which noted that a “first premise of the Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy. This abiding connection between marriage and liberty is why Loving invalidated interracial marriage bans…

Britannica posted information about the Obergefell vs Hodges court case:

Obergefell v. Hodges, legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (5-4) on June 26, 2015, that state bans on same-sex marriages and on recognizing same-sex marriages duly performed in other jurisdictions are unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The two questions presented by the case – the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, (the “marriage question”) and the constitutionality of bans on recognizing same-sex marriages (the “recognition” question) – were among various issues jointly presented in several related cases heard by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in August 2014.

In a single opinion issued in November, the panel held (2-1), among other things, that the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the Supreme Court’s own precedents were not inconsistent with state laws and constitutional amendments that defined marriage as a legal relation between one man and one woman only or that denied legal effect to same-sex marriages performed out-of-state.

The plaintiffs in the cases immediately filed for certiorari with the Supreme Court, which was granted in a consolidated case, Obergefell v. Hodges, in January 2015, limited to the marriage and recognition questions. Oral arguments were heard on April 28.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy asserted that the right to marry is a fundamental right “inherent in the liberty of the person” and is therefore protected by the due process clause, which prohibits the states from depriving any person of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” By virtue of close connection between liberty and equality, the marriage right is also guaranteed by the equal protection clause, which forbids the states from “deny[ing] to any person… the equal protection of the laws.”

Kennedy then argued at length that “the reasons marriage is fundamental,” including its connection with individual liberty, “apply with equal force to same-sex couples.” Such considerations, he concluded, compel the court to hold that “same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry.”

His opinion was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elana Sagan, and Sonia Sotomayor. The lead dissenting opinion was written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, both of whom also wrote their own dissents, as did Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.

Wikipedia provided information about the Supreme Court Justices’s opinion on Obergefell v. Hodges:

Majority Opinion

Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The majority held that state same-sex marriage bans are a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

“The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach,” the Court declared, “a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. Citing Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court affirmed that the fundamental rights found in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause “extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs,” but the “identification and protection” of these fundamental rights “has not been reduced to any formula.” As the Supreme Court found in cases such as Loving v. Virginia, Zablocki v. Redhail, and Turner v. Safley, this extension includes a fundamental right to marry.

The Court rejected respondent states’ framing of the issue as whether there were a “right to same-sex marriage,” insisting its precedents “inquired about the right to marry in its comprehensive sense, asking if there was a sufficient justification for excluding the relevant class from the right.” Addressing the formula in Washington v. Glucksberg that fundamental rights had to be “deeply rooted” in the nation’s history and traditions, “inconsistent with the approach this Court has used” in Loving, Turner, and Zablocki. It continued, “If rights were defined by who exercised them in the past, then received practices could serve as their own continued justification and new groups could not invoke rights once denied.” Citing its prior decisions in Loving and Lawerence v. Texas, the Court framed the issue accordingly in Obergefell.

The Court listed four distinct reasons why the fundamental right to marry applies to same-sex couples, citing United States v. Windsor in support throughout its discussion. First, “the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.” Second, “the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals,” a principle applying equally to same-sex couples. Third, the fundamental right to marry “safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education; as same-sex couples have children and families, they are deserving of this safeguard – through the right to marry in the United States has never been conditioned on procreation. Fourth, and lastly, “marriage is a keystone of our social order,” and “[t]here is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principal”; consequently, preventing same-sex couples from marrying puts them at odds with society, denies them countless benefits of marriage, and introduces instability into their relationships for no justifiable reason.

The Court noted the relationship between the liberty of the Due Process Clause and the equality of the Equal Protection Clause and determined the same-sex marriage bans violated the latter. Concluding that the liberty and equality of same-sex couples was significantly burdened, the Court struck down same-sex marriage bans for violating both clauses, holding that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all fifty states “on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.”

Due to the “substantial and continuing harm” and the “instability and uncertainty” caused by state marriage laws differing with regard to same-sex couples, and because respondent states had conceded that a ruling requiring them to marry same-sex couple would undermine their refusal to hold valid same-sex marriages performed in other stats, the Court also held that states must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

Addressing respondent states’ argument, the Court emphasized that, while the democratic process may be an appropriate means for deciding issues such as same-sex marriage, no individual has to rely solely on the democratic process to exercise a fundamental right. “An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act,” for “fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” Furthermore, to rule against same-sex couples in this case, letting the democratic process play out as “a cautious approach to recognizing and protecting fundamental rights” would harm same-sex couples in the interim.

Additionally, the Court rejected the notion that allowing same-sex couples to marry harms the institution of marriage, leading to fewer opposite-sex marriages through the severing of the link between procreation and marriage, calling the notion “counterintuitive” and “unrealistic.” Instead, the Court stated that married same-sex couples “would pose no risk of harm to themselves or third parties.” The majority also stressed that the First Amendment protects those who disagree with same-sex marriage.

In closing, Justice Kennedy wrote for the Court:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilizations’ oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Dissenting Opinions

Chief Justice Roberts

Chief Justice Roberts wrote a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas. Roberts accepted substantive due process, by which fundamental rights are protected through the Due Process Clause, but warned it has been missed over time to expand perceived fundamental rights, particularly in Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) and Lochner v. New York (1905). Roberts stated that no prior decision had changed the core component of marriage, that it be between one man and one woman; consequently, same-sex marriage bans did not violate the Due Process Cause. Roberts also rejected the notion that same-sex marriage bans violated a right to privacy, because they involved not government intrusion or subsequent punishment. Addressing the Equal Protection Clause, Roberts stated that same-sex marriage bans did not violate the clause because they were rationally related to a governmental interest: preserving the traditional definition of marriage.

More generally, Roberts stated that marriage, which he proposed had always had a “universal definition” as “the union of a man and a woman,” arose to ensure successful childrearing. Roberts criticized the majority opinion for relying on moral convictions rather than a constitutional basis, and for expanding fundamental rights without caution or regard for history. He also suggested that the majority opinion could be used to expand marriage to include legalized polygamy. Roberts chided the majority for overriding the democratic process and for using the judiciary in a way that was not originally intended. According to Roberts, supporters of same-sex marriage cannot win “true acceptance” for their side because the debate has now been closed. Roberts also suggested that the majority’s opinion will ultimately lead to consequences for religious liberty, and he found the Court’s language unfairly attacks opponents of same-sex marriages.

Justice Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Thomas. Scalia stated that the Court’s decision effectively robs the people of “the freedom to govern themselves”, noting that a rigorous debate on same-sex marriage had been taking place and that, by deciding the issue nationwide, the democratic process had been unduly halted. Addressing the claimed Fourteenth Amendment violation, Scalia asserted that, because a same-sex marriage ban would not have been considered unconstitutional at the time of the Fourteenth Amendment’s adoption, such bans are not unconstitutional today. He claimed there was “no basis” for the Court’s “lacking even a thin veneer of the law.” Lastly, Scalia faulted the actual writing in the opinion for ‘diminish[ing] this Court’s reputation for clear thinking and sober analysis” and for ‘descend[ing] from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.

Justice Thomas

Justice Clarance Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Scalia. Thomas rejected the principle of substantive due process, which he claimed, “invites judges to do exactly what the majority has done here – Roa[m] at large in the constitutional field guided only by their personal views as to the fundamental rights protected by that document”; in doing so, the judiciary strays from the Constitution’s text, subverts the democratic process, and “exalts judges at the expense of the People from whom they derive their authority.” Thomas argued that the only liberty that falls under Due Process Clause protection is freedom from “physical restraint”. Furthermore, Thomas insisted that “liberty has long been understood as individual freedom from governmental action, not as a right to a particular governmental entitlement” such as a marriage license. According to Thomas, took issue with the majority’s holding also undermines the political process and threatens religious liberty. Lastly, Thomas took issue with the majorities view that marriage advances the dignity of same-sex couples. In his view, government is not capable of bestowing dignity; rather, dignity is a natural right that is innate, within every person, a right that cannot be taken away even through slavery and interment camps.

Justice Alito

Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas. Invoking Glucksberg, in which the Court stated the Due Process Clause protects only rights and liberties that are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,” Alito claimed any “right” to same-sex marriage would not meet this definition; he chided the justices in the majority for going against judicial precedent and long-held tradition. Alito defended the rationale of the states, accepting the premise that same-sex marriage bans serve to promote procreation and the optimal childrearing environment. Alito expressed concern that the majority’s opinion would be used to attack the beliefs of those who disagree with same-sex marriage, who “will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools,” leading to “bitter and lasting wounds.” Expressing concern for judicial abuse, Alito concluded, “Most Americans – understandably – will cheer or lament today’s decision because of their views on the issue of same-sex marriage. But all Americans, whatever their thinking on that issue, should worry about what the majority’s claim of power portends.”

Katie Couric Media posted an interview with Jim Obergefell on June 26, 2023:

June 26 marks a key milestone for the LGBTQ community in more ways than one. It’s the anniversary of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions, starting with Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, which struck down sodomy laws that restricted same-sex intimacy behind closed doors. Then there was United States v. Windsor, in 2039, which ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, was unconstitutional. Both of these cases helped pave the way for Jim Obergefell, whose own case, Obergefell v. Hodges legalized gay marriage nationally in 2015.

Obergefell’s victory was no means a certainty, but he says both of those previous decisions gave him home at a time when a win wasn’t a guarantee. “Given the fact that those two other cases came out on June 26, we felt pretty optimistic that more good news was on the way – and that’s exactly what happened.”

Sadly, his husband, John Arthur, who died in 2013 of ALS, didn’t live to see the decision, but Obergefell says the love that they shared continues to live on. “The first thought I had was, ‘John, I wish you were here. I wish you could experience this. I wish you could know that our marriage can never be erased.”…

Things To Know About Obergefell v. Hodges Case was put together from several different sources. It is not allowed to be copied.

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