In a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today legalized gay marriage in all 50 states.
The decision brought to tears many gay marriage supporters, who were standing on the steps of the Supreme Court to witness the day’s events.
In the 5-4 ruling, the court found the 14th Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples and to recognize such marriages performed in other states.
Siding with the more liberal justices, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry and “ask for equal dignity in the eye of the law.”
“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage,” Kennedy wrote of the couples challenging gay 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,” Kennedy wrote, “grants them that right.”
In a dissent joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the Constitution has nothing to say on the subject of gay marriage.
“If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” Roberts wrote. “Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”
President Obama hailed the decision: “Americans should be very proud,” because small acts of courage “slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.”
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Today’s ruling means the 13 states that currently define marriage as the union between one man and one woman will now be forced to recognize same-sex marriages. Those states include Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.
The states that had same-sex marriage imposed on them by lower courts—not by state legislative action—will also have that decision locked in. Voters in 31 states had approved measures defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.