Split Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage a ‘fundamental right’

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 vote Friday that the federal Constitution provides a right to same-sex marriage.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority decision:

“The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. … The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry.”

The court also said states must recognize marriages legally performed in other states.

About three-dozen states including California currently allow same-sex marriage, as a result of either decisions by lower federal courts or actions by state courts, state legislatures or popular vote.

The high court ruled in four cases stemming from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee, where bans on same-sex marriage were in effect. The couples in the four cases were seeking either the right to marry or the right to have out-of-state marriages recognized. They appealed after a federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld the same-sex marriage prohibitions in those four states.

Kennedy was joined in the majority by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

He wrote, referring to the plaintiffs in the four cases:

“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.”

Each of the four dissenting justices wrote a separate opinion.

Chief Justice John Roberts said in his dissent that decisions on same-sex marriage should be left up to individual states acting in the democratic process through either their legislatures or voter initiatives.

Roberts wrote:

“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision … But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

The other dissenting justices were Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Scalia wrote:

“This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.”