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Supreme Court Says Yes to Gay Marriage

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Justices say 14th amendment requires states to issue licenses to same-sex couples

The United States Supreme Court ruled Friday that the Constitution requires states to issue marriage licenses to couples of the same sex.

A 5-4 majority held that the 14th Amendment requires states to allow members of the same sex to marry and that marriages performed in states where same-sex marriage is legal must be recognized in all states.

Hard copies of the long-awaited and higly-anticipated decision in Obergefell v. Hodges arrived at the court Friday morning in three large boxes, reflecting the fact that several justice wrote opinions. The court’s liberal wing—Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan—sided with the gay rights petitioners, and Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the tie-breaker, joined them, writing the majority opinion. Dissenting were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., each of whom wrote separate opinions.

The majority opinion reflected on how marriage, long regarded to be strictly reserved to members of the opposite sex, has undergone transformation in the past. Marriages were once arranged, for example, and interracial unions were illegal. And, in the 20th century, social attitudes, medical opinions and the legality of homosexuality and homosexual acts have changed.

Kennedy cited Griswold v. Connecticut, which held that the Constitution assured married couples of the right to use contraceptives. That case was also cited as a precedent for Roe v. Wade and was used in this decision to back the notion that "same-sex couples have the same right as opposite-sex couples to enjoy intimate association, a right extending beyond mere freedom from laws making same-sex intimacy a criminal offense.”

Reaction to the decision was swift and strong.

"Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable," said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement. "Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage."

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who will host Pope Francis this September for the World Meeting of Families, said in a statement that the decision was not a surprise, but that an unpleasant surprise will come "as ordinary people begin to experience, firsthand and painfully, the impact of today’s action on everything they thought they knew about marriage, family life, our laws and our social institutions."

Others were more explicit about how those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman will suffer discrimination. Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City said in a statement, "​Now more than ever we have to be vigilant in our defense of religious liberty due to the threats that are sure to ramp up as a result of this decision and its consequences in law and in public opinion.”

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, spoke of the need to enact the federal First Amendment Defense Act, which would prevent the government from discriminating against churches, organizations and individuals based on their belief that marriage is the exclusive union between a man and a woman. 

Anticipating religious liberty concerns, the majority opinion said that the First Amendment "ensures that religions, those who adhere to religious doctrines, and others have protection as they seek to teach the princples that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”

But Kennedy also wrote that human rights change over time, and that those who believe in "eternal values" must yield to new understandings.

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