IDEAS Anthony Kennedy is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. The petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.
I These cases come from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, States that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The petitioners are 14 same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners are deceased. The respondents are state officials responsible for enforcing the laws in question.
The petitioners claim the respondents violate the Fourteenth Amendment by denying them the right to marry or to have their marriages, lawfully performed in another State, given full recognition. Each District Court ruled in their favor. Citations to those cases are in Appendix A, infra. It consolidated the cases and reversed the judgments of the District Courts.
The Court of Appeals held that a State has no constitutional obligation to license same-sex marriages or to recognize same-sex marriages performed out of State. The petitioners sought certiorari. This Court granted review, limited to two questions. The first, presented by the cases from Michigan and Kentucky, is whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex.
The second, presented by the cases from Ohio, Tennessee, and, again, Kentucky, is whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to recognize a samesex marriage licensed and performed in a State which does grant that right. II Before addressing the principles and precedents that govern these cases, it is appropriate to note the history of the subject now before the Court. A 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. The centrality of marriage to the human condition makes it unsurprising that the institution has existed for millennia and across civilizations. Since the dawn of history, marriage has transformed strangers into relatives, binding families and societies together.
Confucius taught that marriage lies at the foundation of government. Book of Rites C. There are untold references to the beauty of marriage in religious and philosophical texts spanning time, cultures, and faiths, as well as in art and literature in all their forms. It is fair and necessary to say these references were based on the understanding that marriage is a union between two persons of the opposite sex.
That history is the beginning of these cases. The respondents say it should be the end as well. To them, it would demean a timeless institution if the concept and lawful status of marriage were extended to two persons of the same sex.
Marriage, in their view, is by its nature a gender-differentiated union of man and woman. This view long has been held—and continues to be held—in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.
The petitioners acknowledge this history but contend that these cases cannot end there. But that is neither their purpose nor their submission. This, they say, is their whole point. Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.
They fell in love and started a life together, establishing a lasting, committed relation. In , however, Arthur was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. This debilitating disease is progressive, with no known cure. Two years ago, Obergefell and Arthur decided to commit to one another, resolving to marry before Arthur died. To fulfill their mutual promise, they traveled from Ohio to Maryland, where same-sex marriage was legal. It was difficult for Arthur to move, and so the couple were wed inside a medical transport plane as it remained on the tarmac in Baltimore.
Three months later, Arthur died. They celebrated a commitment ceremony to honor their permanent relation in They both work as nurses, DeBoer in a neonatal unit and Rowse in an emergency unit. In , DeBoer and Rowse fostered and then adopted a baby boy. Later that same year, they welcomed another son into their family. The new baby, born prematurely and abandoned by his biological mother, required around-the-clock care.
The next year, a baby girl with special needs joined their family. Michigan, however, permits only opposite-sex married couples or single individuals to adopt, so each child can have only one woman as his or her legal parent.
If an emergency were to arise, schools and hospitals may treat the three children as if they had only one parent. And, were tragedy to befall either DeBoer or Rowse, the other would have no legal rights over the children she had not been permitted to adopt. This couple seeks relief from the continuing uncertainty their unmarried status creates in their lives. In , DeKoe received orders to deploy to Afghanistan. Before leaving, he and Kostura married in New York. A week later, DeKoe began his deployment, which lasted for almost a year.
Their lawful marriage is stripped from them whenever they reside in Tennessee, returning and disappearing as they travel across state lines. DeKoe, who served this Nation to preserve the freedom the Constitution protects, must endure a substantial burden.
The cases now before the Court involve other petitioners as well, each with their own experiences. B The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change.
That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time. A History of Marriage and the Nation 9—17 ; S. Coontz, Marriage, A History 15—16 As the role and status of women changed, the institution further evolved.
Under the centuries-old doctrine of coverture, a married man and woman were treated by the State as a single, male-dominated legal entity. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England As women gained legal, political, and property rights, and as society began to understand that women have their own equal dignity, the law of coverture was abandoned.
See Brief for Historians of Marriage et al. These and other developments in the institution of marriage over the past centuries were not mere superficial changes.
Rather, they worked deep transformations in its structure, affecting aspects of marriage long viewed by many as essential. Cott, Public Vows; S. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution of marriage. Indeed, changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations, often through perspectives that begin in pleas or protests and then are considered in the political sphere and the judicial process.
Until the midth century, same-sex intimacy long had been condemned as immoral by the state itself in most Western nations, a belief often embodied in the criminal law. For this reason, among others, many persons did not deem homosexuals to have dignity in their own distinct identity. A truthful declaration by same-sex couples of what was in their hearts had to remain unspoken.
Even when a greater awareness of the humanity and integrity of homosexual persons came in the period after World War II, the argument that gays and lesbians had a just claim to dignity was in conflict with both law and widespread social conventions. Same-sex intimacy remained a crime in many States.
Gays and lesbians were prohibited from most government employment, barred from military service, excluded under immigration laws, targeted by police, and burdened in their rights to associate. For much of the 20th century, moreover, homosexuality was treated as an illness.
When the American Psychiatric Association published the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in , homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder, a position adhered to until Only in more recent years have psychiatrists and others recognized that sexual orientation is both a normal expression of human sexuality and immutable.
See Brief for American Psychological Association et al. In the late 20th century, following substantial cultural and political developments, same-sex couples began to lead more open and public lives and to establish families.
This development was followed by a quite extensive discussion of the issue in both governmental and private sectors and by a shift in public attitudes toward greater tolerance. As a result, questions about the rights of gays and lesbians soon reached the courts, where the issue could be discussed in the formal discourse of the law. This Court first gave detailed consideration to the legal status of homosexuals in Bowers v.
There it upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia law deemed to criminalize certain homosexual acts. Ten years later, in Romer v. Against this background, the legal question of same-sex marriage arose. Although this decision did not mandate that same-sex marriage be allowed, some States were concerned by its implications and reaffirmed in their laws that marriage is defined as a union between opposite-sex partners.
The new and widespread discussion of the subject led other States to a different conclusion. Department of Public Health, Mass. After that ruling, some additional States granted marriage rights to samesex couples, either through judicial or legislative processes.
These decisions and statutes are cited in Appendix B, infra. Two Terms ago, in United States v. Numerous cases about same-sex marriage have reached the United States Courts of Appeals in recent years. In accordance with the judicial duty to base their decisions on principled reasons and neutral discussions, without scornful or disparaging commentary, courts have written a substantial body of law considering all sides of these issues.