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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.
"Rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era," he wrote. "Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied."
The Thomas More Society, in a statement, vowed to defend the rights of those who speak out and stand up for marriage as the union of man and woman, freedom of speech and association, and free exercise of religious faith.
Steve Crampton, special counsel to the Thomas More Society, a national not-for-profit law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty, co-authored its amicus brief in the marriage cases collectively known as Obergefell v. Hodges. The Society’s brief argued that there is no basis in our Constitution for the Justices to redefine marriage, and that the jurisprudence under the 14th Amendment precluded any nationwide mandate for same-sex marriage.
“Today’s Supreme Court decision purporting to redefine the institution of marriage will be regarded by many Americans as a grave aberration that obliterates the borderline between the rule of law and policy-making," Crampton said. "Natural marriage—the union of one man and one woman—is the foundation for a stable, fruitful civil society. Without it, societies are prone to crumble. The Constitution does not authorize the Court to redefine marriage, nor to rob the people of their right of self-governance—to debate and determine for themselves what laws will govern. This is not justice. It is sheer judicial activism and politics run amok.”
Another law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom, issued a statement from Senior Legal Counsel Jim Campbell, saying: “The Supreme Court has stripped all Americans of our freedom to debate and decide marriage policy through the democratic process. The freedom to democratically address the most pressing social issues of the day is the heart of liberty. The court took that freedom from the people and overrode the considered judgment of tens of millions of Americans who recently reaffirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The court cast aside the understanding of marriage’s nature and purpose that diverse cultures and faiths across the globe have embraced for millennia.”
Sherif Gergis, co-author of the 2012 book What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, commented:"I’m reminded of Thomas More’s Utopia: ‘You must not abandon the ship in a storm because you cannot control the winds.’ The struggle for marriage is a struggle for children’s right to wake up under the same roof as their own mother and father. That we must not abandon."
“Let this be remembered as the day that it became official: The United States is no longer a nation of laws, but a nation of the will of the powerful," said said Father Shenan J. Boquet, president of Human Life International. "When duly passed state laws can be reversed on a whim, giving the government power to redefine an institution that preceded it by thousands of years, we are a deeply, and now perhaps irrevocably, broken nation.
“With the same political powers who have been forcing this absurd redefinition of marriage now openly expressing their unwillingness to protect religious freedom, the stage is set for a cold civil war, with the battle lines running not from north to south, but through families, communities, businesses and institutions," Father Boquet continued. "This is not the first time the courts have rejected the law of nature and nature’s God, but it is perhaps the most flagrant such rejection, and it is time for Christians to realize that if they do not unite and fight now, that their very beliefs will be outlawed."
“The government cannot redefine marriage, regardless of what some court or some law says. With peaceful and joyful hearts we affirm that it is time to fight, not to despair. This has only just begun.”
Archbishop Coakley said the decision will have devastating consequences, especially for children today and for generations to come.
"No matter the court’s ruling, it cannot change what marriage really is," he said. "Marriage by its nature remains the union of one man and one woman. Marriage is a natural institution that predates and precedes governments and government regulation." The archbishop said that marriage is about "far more than love shared between adults. Society needs an institution that connects children to their mothers and fathers, and marriage is the only institution that by its nature is able to accomplish this. Children have a basic right, wherever possible, to know and be loved by their mother and father together in a stable union."
He vowed that the Church will "steadfastly defend this right, and continue to affirm the sanctity of marriage as established by God, written into human nature, and recognized as such for millennia."
One organization identifying itself as Catholic, however, celebrated the decision. "For most Catholics, especially lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics, today’s Supreme Court decision affirms a basic promise society grants its citizens: equal rights under the law," said Call to Action, in a press release.
“For far too long committed LGBT partners and families have endured discrimination and marginalization. This has come from many places – but none more forceful than from some members within the Catholic hierarchy. This decision, however, reverberates God’s love of everyone and celebrates the dignity and holiness of all loving families,” said
Jim FitzGerald, Call To Action’s Executive Director.
The press release issued a call to "the Catholic hierarchy to reexamine and change Church teaching with regards to the LGBT community."
“The sacredness of all loving couples, together with their welcome and inclusion in all facets of faith communities, is a reality that must now be given pastoral priority” says Jim FitzGerald. “We cannot act as if the Spirit hasn’t moved us to be more loving and just.”
But Judie Brown, a Catholic who founded the American Life League, said the Obergefelldecision "strikes at the heart of our nation just as Roe v. Wade did decades ago."
"Now, by judicial fiat, we are called to honor the fictional union of two people of the same sex," she said. "A nation that has lost its values has lost its soul. Our nation has become like a dead body floating downstream, to what destination only the devil knows."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the decision "a central assault upon marriage as the conjugal union of a man and a woman."
"As Chief Justice Roberts said in his dissent, ‘The majority’s decision is an act of will, not a legal judgment,’" Mohler said.
"The majority’s argument, expressed by Justice Kennedy, is that the right of same-sex couples to marry is based in individual autonomy as related to sexuality, in marriage as a fundamental right, in marriage as a privileged context for raising children, and in upholding marriage as central to civilization," Mohler said. "But at every one of these points, the majority had to reinvent marriage in order to make its case. The Court has not merely ordered that same-sex couples be allowed to marry – it has fundamentally redefined marriage itself."
Noting that the precedents and arguments set forth in the decision cannot be limited to the right of same-sex couples to marry, Mohler said, "If individual autonomy and equal protection mean that same-sex couples cannot be denied what is now defined as a fundamental right of marriage, then others will arrive to make the same argument. This Court will find itself in a trap of its own making, and one that will bring great harm to this nation and its families."
Said Archbishop Chaput, "The mistakes of the court change nothing about the nature of men and women, and the truth of God’s Word. The task now for believers is to form our own families even more deeply in the love of God, and to rebuild a healthy marriage culture, one marriage at a time, from the debris of today’s decision."
Long-term, said the National Organization for Marriage’s Brown, Hodges can and must be overturned, either by enacting a marriage amendment to the US Constitution or by a recomposition of the Supreme Court.
"There may be two or three appointments [to the court] in the next term," he said.
"We’re going to be in the same position as the life movement working to overturn [Roe v. Wade], and it may take decades," Brown added.