Supreme Court Ends Same-Sex Mar­riage Bans Na­tion­wide

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - ABC News’ Nancy Gabriner, Kate Shaw and Adam Te­i­cholz con­trib­uted to this re­port.

By AU­DREY TAY­LOR and MIKE LEVINE (ABC News)

The United States Supreme Court ruled to­day that gay and les­bian cou­ples across the coun­try have a con­sti­tu­tional right to marry.

The 5-4 de­ci­sion caps a long and of­ten con­tentious bat­tle over what many have called the “defin­ing civil rights chal­lenge of our time.”

While the rul­ing, writ­ten by Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy, rec­og­nizes a cen­turies-old “un­der­stand­ing” of mar­riage as “a union be­tween two per­sons of the op­po­site sex,” it says “the history of mar­riage is one of both con­ti­nu­ity and change.”

“That in­sti­tu­tion -- even as con­fined to op­po­site-sex re­la­tions -- has evolved over time,” the Supreme Court’s rul­ing says.

Writ­ing a dis­sent, Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia called the rul­ing a “threat to Amer­i­can democ­racy” adding, “To­day’s de­cree says that my ruler, and the ruler of 320 mil­lion Amer­i­cans coast-to-coast, is a ma­jor­ity of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.”

The rul­ing con­cludes: “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 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.”

At least 36 states plus the Dis­trict of Columbia cur­rently rec­og­nize gay mar­riage in some form. The other states, mean­while, passed state laws ban­ning same-sex mar­riage. So two ques­tions in par­tic­u­lar were fac­ing the Supreme Court ahead of its de­ci­sion: Does any part of the Four­teenth Amend­ment, with its guar­an­tees of equal pro­tec­tion and due process, com­pel states to per­form same-sex mar­riages? And -- if not -- are states re­quired to at least rec­og­nize same-sex mar­riages per­formed in another state?

Public sup­port for gay mar­riage has reached a new high, with 61 per­cent of re­spon­dents in an ABC News/ Washington Post poll two months ago say­ing gay and les­bian cou­ples should be al­lowed to legally marry.

The case be­hind to­day’s de­ci­sion be­gan in 2013, af­ter the Supreme Court ruled in a sep­a­rate mat­ter that same­sex spouses must be af­forded the same fed­eral ben­e­fits as other mar­ried cou­ples. That rul­ing, though, did not tackle the ques­tion of whether gay mar­riage is a Con­sti­tu­tional right.

In the wake of the United States v. Wind­sor de­ci­sion in 2013, Ohio real es­tate bro­ker Jim Oberge­fell and his dy­ing part­ner of 20 years were mar­ried in Mary­land. But the state of Ohio, which has passed a ban on same-sex mar­riages, re­fused to rec­og­nize Oberge­fell as a “sur­viv­ing spouse.”

The U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Sixth Cir­cuit backed the state of Ohio, rul­ing Ohio didn’t have to rec­og­nize same-sex mar­riages per­formed else­where.

Soon enough, the mat­ter landed be­fore the Supreme Court, con­sol­i­dated with cases fight­ing over sim­i­lar is­sues in Ken­tucky, Michigan and Ten­nessee.

The Supreme Court heard ar­gu­ments in the case on April 28. As with many cases be­fore the high court, many had ex­pected mod­er­ate Kennedy to pro­vide the de­cid­ing vote in Oberge­fell vs. Hodges.

Dur­ing the ar­gu­ments, Kennedy noted the def­i­ni­tion of mar­riage as be­tween a man and a woman “has been with us for mil­len­nia.”

“And it’s very dif­fi­cult for the court to say, ‘Oh well, we know bet­ter,’” he said.

In 2004, Mas­sachusetts be­came the first state to al­low same-sex mar­riage. In the years since, as other states fol­lowed suit, the U.S. gov­ern­ment ex­tended cer­tain ben­e­fits to same-sex cou­ples.

And four years ago, the De­fense Depart­ment ended its pol­icy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” al­low­ing gay and bi­sex­ual sol­diers to openly serve in the mil­i­tary.

“Af­ter decades of un­told strug­gle, un­yield­ing ad­vo­cacy and un­fath­omable brav­ery, it is clear that we are in the midst of a na­tional awak­en­ing,” At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta Lynch told an ad­vo­cacy group this past week. “Of course, even as we celebrate re­mark­able ad­vances, it is clear that we still have more work to do.”

Car­los McKnight holds up a flag in sup­port of gay mar­riage out­side the Supreme Court in Washington,

June 26, 2015.

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