Obergefell v. Hodges
U.S. Case Law
576 U.S. _____ (2015), held that the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry, and that States must recognize same-sex marriages validly performed out of state. The case followed divided state and federal legislative actions and judicial decisions on the issue of same-sex marriage. In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined “marriage” for purposes of federal law as a legal union between one man and one woman and which declared that no state was required to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ____ (2013), holding that it deprived same-sex couples of equal liberty guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in imposing a disadvantage, separate status, and stigma on couples in same-sex marriages that were lawful in their state of residence. The Court did not, however, answer the question of the legality of same-sex marriage, continuing to leave it to the states. In Obergefell, the Court reviewed consolidated suits brought by fourteen same-sex couples in the Sixth Circuit, which had ruled against them. In a 5–4 decision, the Court held that states are required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and that they must recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another state. It reasoned that personal choice regarding marriage is a fundamental liberty inherent in the concept of individual autonomy and is guaranteed to same-sex couples just as to heterosexual couples under the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause and equal protection clause. In further support of its decision, the court cited precedent holding that marriage is unlike any other in importance to the committed individuals, that it safeguards children and families, and that it is the keystone of our social order. The Court stated that while the First Amendment guarantees religious organizations the right to their principles, states are not afforded the right to discriminate against same-sex couples.