The U.S. Supreme Court and the Obergefell v. Hodges Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court and the Obergefell v. Hodges Decision

Victoria Ferrara


June 26, 2015 will go down in history as an amazing day for civil rights in the United States. In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that marriage is a fundamental right and that same sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

In a riveting and impassioned decision, Justice Kennedy wrote:

"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.

"As all parties agree, many same-sex couples provide loving and nurturing homes to their children, whether biological or adopted. ... Excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples.  

"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."

Although the dissenters see this decision as a manner of judicial activism and they argue that the majority has taken away government by the people, or by the democratic practice of legislation, this is a canned argument, a convenient argument that would only serve to cause continued oppression and discrimination. Where would we be without the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in the past that provided civil rights to people who were oppressed? If the Loving decision did not become the law of the land, it would have taken years before interracial marriage would have been permitted. The public, the legislature bowing to public pressure, would most likely have allowed the discrimination to persist. This is true also for the Brown decision on desegregation that overturned the doctrine of "separate but equal." Again, at the time, it would have taken years to end the persistent discrimination, or the change may never have occurred.                

This is precisely why we have a U.S. Supreme Court. We have a system of checks and balances. If the legislatures are not acting in way that upholds the 14th amendment, the civil rights of all people, the basic equality upon which our democracy rests, then we must have action by our country's highest court. The Obergefell decision will go down in history together with all of the other amazingly important cases that have served to uphold equal protection in the United States.

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