In 1865, slavery was abolished. In 1920, women were granted the right to vote. In 1967, interracial marriage became fully legal in all states after anti-miscegenation laws were ruled unconstitutional. And, finally, in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision that the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al., stating, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodied the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.” Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan joined Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion.
The dissenting Justices, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Samuel Alito, had varying, but similar negative viewpoints on the ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law.” Indicating his serious concerns that the Court had extended its role from enforcer to activist.
However, Justice Kennedy outlined four (4) key principles behind his decision. They are: individual autonomy, right to intimate association, safeguarding children and families, and marriage as a foundation of American social order.
Lastly, Justice Kennedy responds to defenders of traditional marriage who argue that same-sex couples are attempting to create a “new” right under the law. He maintains that”[u]nder the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.”