The Supreme Court of the United States on Friday made the nation’s unions a little more perfect.
In a 5-4 decision, the nation’s top court held that the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marriage, ending more than a decade of litigation, political maneuvering and, in some states, an outright blockade.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy who held the key vote in what was otherwise a decision split among party lines.
The court’s three female justices voted in favor of same-sex marriage, while the majority of the court’s male justices voted in opposition.
In his dissent on the decision, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the court’s decision was less based on “legal reasoning” and more rooted in the “mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.” Scalia argued that it was no business of the court to decide one way or another on the topic of same-sex marriage because in a handful of states — nearly two dozen before Friday’s decision — voters or the courts there had already decided on the issue.
“With each decision of ours that takes from the People a question properly left to them … we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence,” Scalia wrote.
In a separate dissent, Justice John Roberts challenged the notion that the court was finding in favor of same-sex marriage on constitutional grounds.
Read more: So, What’s Next After Gay Marriage?!
“If you are among the many Americans … 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.”
But Kennedy disagreed, writing that “when a new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and received legal structure, a claim to liberty must be addressed.”
Kennedy wrote further, “The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. 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.”
Kennedy read his lengthy affirmation inside the court on Friday, and reporters inside noted that the reaction was mixed between somber celebration and cautioned enthusiasm.
The enthusiasm was anything but cautioned on the steps of the court where a crowd of hundreds erupted in cheers as media interns sprinted to awaiting reporters and camera crews to deliver the court’s opinion. For those in the crowd, the moment marked the beginning of the end to a grab bag of favorable and unfavorable voter initiatives and court opinions that muddied the waters as to whether their unions were legally recognized.
The Supreme Court’s decision Friday ended that uncertainty. With it came an overturn on same-sex marriage bans in 13 states across the country.
President Obama: “Love is Love”
Speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House, President Obama praised the Supreme Court’s ruling, saying it was a moment in which Americans “should be very proud.”
“Today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we made our union a little more perfect,” Obama said. “When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”
Before his speech, Obama called Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, where a portion of the president’s conversation was captured by a nearby CNN camera crew.
“I just wanted to say congratulations,” Obama told Obergefell. “Your leadership on this has changed the country.”
There was no shortage of statement from those who seek to replace Obama next year, with presidential hopefuls tweeting and e-mailing their words of encouragement or contempt.
Proud to celebrate a historic victory for marriage equality—& the courage & determination of LGBT Americans who made it possible. -H
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 26, 2015
Clinton’s fellow Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders offered a more nuanced, but nonetheless encouraging, statement:
Today the Supreme Court fulfilled the words engraved upon its building: ‘Equal justice under law.’ #SCOTUSMarriage — Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 26, 2015
For Republican contenders, Friday’s ruling brought out a mixture of cautioned optimism and scorn.
“I believe in traditional marriage,” GOP hopeful Jeb Bush said. “I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision. I also believe that we should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments.”
One of Bush’s competitors, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, did not mince words in a statement released to supporters late Friday morning.
“Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that,” Jindal wrote in an e-mail blast. The message contained two large donation buttons and a promise that the presidential hopeful would “never stop fighting for religious liberty.”
Brands Seize Pride Moment
Like politicians, brands wasted no time in seizing on the opportunity afforded by the Supreme Court’s ruling to draw attention to themselves. But unlike Political America, there was seemingly no divide in Corporate America on the same-sex marriage decision.
Target, AT&T, Unilever, Visa, MasterCard and JetBlue were among some of the top companies to tweet their support of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, who has been a long supporter of gay rights, tweeted a video showing the spread of same-sex marriage in the United States between 2004 and the present day.
How #MarriageEquality became a reality in the United States! #LoveWins https://t.co/CV5jYBttnA
— Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) June 26, 2015
On Twitter, thousands of people tweeted the news under the hashtag #LoveWins. Within an hour of the ruling, Twitter amended the hashtag to include a rainbow-themed heart in every message.
Tim Cook, the chief executive of electronics giant Apple who came out as gay last year, channeled a former colleague in his tweet on the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do,” Cook wrote, echoing the words of Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs.
For Opposition Groups, Little Recourse
For those who have staunchly opposed measures to approve same-sex marriage in states, the Supreme Court’s decision came as a blow to those decade-long efforts. Nowhere was that more visible than in a statement released on Friday by Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, one of the leading opposition groups on the matter.
“No court can overturn natural law,” Perkins said. “Marriage is rooted not only in human history, but also in the biological and social reality that children are created by, and do best when raised by, a mother and a father. No court ruling can alter this truth.”
Earlier in the day, Perkins said in an interview aired on CBS News that those with religious-held beliefs would likely continue to find ways to exercise those beliefs in spite of the law.
Randy Thomasson, the leader of Save California who was once considered one of the more vocal opponents of that state’s anti-gay marriage movement, said in a statement that the Supreme Court’s decision was wrong because it leaned upon the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment protections, which “is not about marriage but about race.”
“Because the Supreme Court has no troops to enforce its illegitimate opinion, sovereign states with constitutional marriage amendments should ignore this unconstitutional edict and should instead faithfully enforce their state constitutions, as all state officials swear to do,” Thomasson wrote.
Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based organization that has opposed same-sex marriage movements in several states, called the court’s decision a “storm for marriages” and used the opportunity to ask for monthly donations via its website.
But no amount of kicking and screaming can change the course that the court has now set, and none if it seemed to dampen the spirit of the millions of Americans across the country who threw their support behind same-sex marriage. The atmosphere was festive, where the city gay pride parade this weekend will have one more thing to celebrate.
“Did you feel the earth shake this morning?” Ed Lee, San Francisco’s mayor, said outside city hall. “I don’t think it was an earthquake, but I do believe it was the scales of justice tipping and it was the arc of our history being bent. That’s what we felt this morning.”
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.
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