Schmidt Law Services Blog

Lisa Schmidt
SCOTUS Grants Marriage Equality

SCOTUS Says Gays Have Fundamental Right to Marriage Equality

SCOTUS Grants Marriage EqualityThe decision that thousands of Michigan couples have been waiting for for months, even years, has finally arrived. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to marriage equality. Here’s a look at the decision.

The Supreme Court issued its opinion in Obergefell et al v Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al, (which included a review of Michigan’s DeBoer v Snyder) exactly one year after Windsor v United States struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The decision struck down four states’ gay marriage bans on the basis of citizens fundamental right to marry (a Due Process argument) and their right to Equal Protection under the law. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 5-justice majority of the court:

From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage. The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations. (P. 3)
But the fact that historically, marriage has been defined as a man and a woman did not keep the Court from finding that LGBT couples had the right to enter that same transcendent relationship.

Gays’ Fundamental Right to Marry

Acknowledging that “sexual orientation is both a normal expression of human sexuality and immutable”, the Court said that gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to marry, just like everyone else. The Court respected marriage as a fundamental right based on four principles and traditions, each of which it held applied just as strongly to homosexual couples as heterosexual spouses:
  1. Individual autonomy (the right to make personal decisions);
  2. Intimate association (the right to decide who one commits to living with);
  3. Safeguards for children and families (the right of children to be in secure families); and
  4. Marriage as a keystone of social order (regarding the numerous rights and benefits connected to marriage).

Equal Protection

The Court recognized that whenever a fundamental right is called into question, issues of equal protection become particularly important. While the court did not grant LGBT individuals “heightened scrutiny” as many advocates had hoped, it very clearly said:

The right of same-sex couples to marry that is part of the liberty promised by the Fourteenth Amendment is derived, too, from that Amendment’s guarantee of the equal protection of the laws.
It asserted that “the Equal Protection Clause can help to identify and correct the inequalities in the institution of marriage, vindicating precepts of liberty and equality under the Constitution.”

The Dissent

Four justices dissented separately on the case: Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. Each basically asserted that the decision whether to allow gay couples to marry should be left to the legislative process or the vote of the people. But Kennedy relied on a 1943 case that said “fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” The Court concluded:

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 civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

It struck down Michigan’s gay marriage ban and legalized gay marriage nationwide. This truly is a day for celebration by gay marriage advocates across the country.

Lisa J. Schmidt is a family law attorney at Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She specializes in helping LGBT and non-traditional families protect their rights. If you know someone facing a difficult family situation, contact Schmidt Law Services today.

Image Source: The White House (via Facebook)