TIME Supreme Court

Older Gays and Lesbians Greet Marriage Ruling With Disbelief

Supreme Court Gay Marriage
Jacquelyn Martin—AP Same-sex marriage supporters hold up balloons that spell the word "love" as they wait outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, on June 26, 2015, before the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US.

Bert Kubli faced the grand Supreme Court building, his left leg nervously bouncing as he waited for the Justices inside to hand down a ruling that would decide whether his marriage would be recognized throughout the country.

Seventy-five-year-old Kubli and 71-year-old husband Mark McElreath live in Washington, D.C., where their marriage is recognized, but there was still something more they wanted, an acknowledgment that their union meant the same as everyone else’s.

On Friday, the Supreme Court found that it did, ordering all 50 states to recognize gay marriage. And Kubli and McElreath’s first reaction was disbelief.

Standing in matching pink gingham shirts from Ralph Lauren, arms around each other, the septuagenarians watched Friday as the cheers rolled through the crowd gathered outside the marble Supreme Court building. Text messages and Twitter notifications were spreading the word and the flags and banners were being swung wildly overhead.

Still, they hesitated. “Could it be?” Kubli asked. The cheers kept growing, however, and Kubli finally gave himself permission to be joyful. “I assumed it might not happen,” he said with a sheepish shrug.

Outside the Supreme Court on Friday, the quickly growing crowd skewed younger, for sure. For many standing on the sidewalk, waving flags emblazoned with the equal sign that is the symbol of the Human Rights Campaign, the idea that gay marriage was controversial seemed ludicrous.

But for older members of the crowd, looking back on their own experiences, it was hard to believe how much had changed and how quickly. For the older generation, very real issues such as medical decisions and inheritance hinged on whether their relationship was codified as a marriage or not. It was a question that kept coming up for Kubli and McElerath. Both previously had been wed to women but now lacked many of the rights that their one-time wives had enjoyed. Others preferred to keep their personal lives private.

“I’ve been with my wife for 29 years,” said Cindy Lollar, a 56-year-old resident of College Park, Maryland. Never did she expect to have her relationship recognized in places like Alabama or Mississippi.

Lollar is preparing to retire but, as she is considering places to move out of the Washington area, the same question kept coming up: “Would we be safe there? Were there protections for us?” she said. “We weren’t safe everywhere.” For instance, if one fell ill, would one be able to make medical decisions for the other? “We were not given legal protections,” she said. “We wanted our rights.”

Nearby, 68-year-old Cindy Attwood was reading the decision on her iPhone, scanning Justice Anthony Kennedy’s ruling and giving high fives as she read parts of it aloud. “I’ve been waiting for 40 years for this, and now we are the same as anyone else,” the Fairfax County, Virginia, resident said. She and her wife have been together 19 years and were among the first to go to Vermont when that state became the first to offer same-sex unions. “This is what equality feels like.”

Outside the court, crowds continued to grow as word spread that the Supreme Court had affirmed the Constitution gives same-sex couples the right to wed. Many started shouting parts of the ruling. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

That was the sentiment Mickey Evans echoed as he stood with his husband Reggie Boyer outside the court. “This changes everything,” said Evans, a 46-year-old Air Force officer. The 43-year-old Boyer chimed in: “Our marriage is recognized,” something that was not the case during Evans’ three most recent military postings. The couple has been together 16 years but wed in Provincetown, Massachusetts, only in 2011, after the Pentagon scrapped the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that banned military members from serving while openly gay. “People knew who I am, but we didn’t dare (get married). We wanted to be like everyone else.”

Nearby, the crowd continued its celebration, waving giant blue-and-gold flags. Others spun flags in red, the color of love. The group spilled into the street between the Supreme Court and the Capitol. Many staffers from the Hill wandered over to what was becoming a pro-gay marriage rally.

Rep. Mark Takano was among them. The first non-white gay person elected to Congress, the California Democrat was walking through the crowd cheering the ruling. “We’re making history. We deserve this,” Takano said. “Think of the impact this will have on young people. They will grow up knowing they have the same rights as everyone else. They will never know a country where they could not get married.”

TIME Courts

Read the Supreme Court Ruling That Recognized Gay Marriage Nationwide

Anthony Kennedy is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

"No union is more profound than marriage"

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. See, e.g., Mich. Const., Art. I, §25; Ky. Const. §233A; Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §3101.01 (Lexis 2008); Tenn. Const., Art. XI, §18. 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.

Petitioners filed these suits in United States District Courts in their home States. Each District Court ruled in their favor. Citations to those cases are in Appendix A, infra. The respondents appealed the decisions against them to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. It consolidated the cases and reversed the judgments of the District Courts. DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F. 3d 388 (2014). 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. 574 U. S. ___ (2015). 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. 2 Li Chi: Book of Rites 266 (C. Chai & W. Chai eds., J. Legge transl. 1967). This wisdom was echoed centuries later and half a world away by Cicero, who wrote, “The first bond of society is marriage; next, children; and then the family.” See De Officiis 57 (W. Miller transl. 1913). 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. Were their intent to demean the revered idea and reality of marriage, the petitioners’ claims would be of a different order. But that is neither their purpose nor their submission. To the contrary, it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions. 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.

Recounting the circumstances of three of these cases illustrates the urgency of the petitioners’ cause from their perspective. Petitioner James Obergefell, a plaintiff in the Ohio case, met John Arthur over two decades ago. They fell in love and started a life together, establishing a lasting, committed relation. In 2011, 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. Ohio law does not permit Obergefell to be listed as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. By statute, they must remain strangers even in death, a stateimposed separation Obergefell deems “hurtful for the rest of time.” App. in No. 14–556 etc., p. 38. He brought suit to be shown as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are co-plaintiffs in the case from Michigan. They celebrated a commitment ceremony to honor their permanent relation in 2007. They both work as nurses, DeBoer in a neonatal unit and Rowse in an emergency unit. In 2009, 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.

Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and his partner Thomas Kostura, co-plaintiffs in the Tennessee case, fell in love. In 2011, 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. When he returned, the two settled in Tennessee, where DeKoe works full-time for the Army Reserve. 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. Their stories reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memory, joined by its bond.

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.

For example, marriage was once viewed as an arrangement by the couple’s parents based on political, religious, and financial concerns; but by the time of the Nation’s founding it was understood to be a voluntary contract between a man and a woman. See N. Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation 9–17 (2000); S. Coontz, Marriage, A History 15–16 (2005). 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. See 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 430 (1765). 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. as Amici Curiae 16–19. 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. See generally N. Cott, Public Vows; S. Coontz, Marriage; H. Hartog, Man & Wife in America: A History (2000).

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.

This dynamic can be seen in the Nation’s experiences with the rights of gays and lesbians. Until the mid-20th 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. See Brief for Organization of American Historians as Amicus Curiae 5–28.

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 1952, homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder, a position adhered to until 1973. See Position Statement on Homosexuality and Civil Rights, 1973, in 131 Am. J. Psychiatry 497 (1974). 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. as Amici Curiae 7–17.

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. Hardwick, 478 U. S. 186 (1986). There it upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia law deemed to criminalize certain homosexual acts. Ten years later, in Romer v. Evans, 517 U. S. 620 (1996), the Court invalidated an amendment to Colorado’s Constitution that sought to foreclose any branch or political subdivision of the State from protecting persons against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Then, in 2003, the Court overruled Bowers, holding that laws making same-sex intimacy a crime “demea[n] the lives of homosexual persons.” Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U. S. 558, 575.

Against this background, the legal question of same-sex marriage arose. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court held Hawaii’s law restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples constituted a classification on the basis of sex and was therefore subject to strict scrutiny under the Hawaii Constitution. Baehr v. Lewin, 74 Haw. 530, 852 P. 2d 44. 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. So too in 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 110 Stat. 2419, defining marriage for all federallaw purposes as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” 1 U. S. C. §7.

The new and widespread discussion of the subject led other States to a different conclusion. In 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held the State’s Constitution guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry. See Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, 440 Mass. 309, 798 N. E. 2d 941 (2003). 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. Windsor, 570 U. S. ___ (2013), this Court invalidated DOMA to the extent it barred the Federal Government from treating same-sex marriages as valid even when they were lawful in the State where they were licensed. DOMA, the Court held, impermissibly disparaged those same-sex couples “who wanted to affirm their commitment to one another before their children, their family, their friends, and their community.” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 14).

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. That case law helps to explain and formulate the underlying principles this Court now must consider. With the exception of the opinion here under review and one other, see Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning, 455 F. 3d 859, 864–868 (CA8 2006), the Courts of Appeals have held that excluding same-sex couples from marriage violates the Constitution. There also have been many thoughtful District Court decisions addressing same-sex marriage—and most of them, too, have concluded samesex couples must be allowed to marry. In addition the highest courts of many States have contributed to this ongoing dialogue in decisions interpreting their own State Constitutions. These state and federal judicial opinions are cited in Appendix A, infra.

After years of litigation, legislation, referenda, and the discussions that attended these public acts, the States are now divided on the issue of same-sex marriage. See Office of the Atty. Gen. of Maryland, The State of Marriage Equality in America, State-by-State Supp. (2015).

III

Under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The fundamental liberties protected by this Clause include most of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. See Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U. S. 145, 147–149 (1968). In addition these liberties extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs. See, e.g., Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U. S. 438, 453 (1972); Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479, 484–486 (1965).

The identification and protection of fundamental rights is an enduring part of the judicial duty to interpret the Constitution. That responsibility, however, “has not been reduced to any formula.” Poe v. Ullman, 367 U. S. 497, 542 (1961) (Harlan, J., dissenting). Rather, it requires courts to exercise reasoned judgment in identifying interests of the person so fundamental that the State must accord them its respect. See ibid. That process is guided by many of the same considerations relevant to analysis of other constitutional provisions that set forth broad principles rather than specific requirements. History and tradition guide and discipline this inquiry but do not set its outer boundaries. See Lawrence, supra, at 572. That method respects our history and learns from it without allowing the past alone to rule the present.

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.

Applying these established tenets, the Court has long held the right to marry is protected by the Constitution. In Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, 12 (1967), which invalidated bans on interracial unions, a unanimous Court held marriage is “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” The Court reaffirmed that holding in Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U. S. 374, 384 (1978), which held the right to marry was burdened by a law prohibiting fathers who were behind on child support from marrying. The Court again applied this principle in Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78, 95 (1987), which held the right to marry was abridged by regulations limiting the privilege of prison inmates to marry. Over time and in other contexts, the Court has reiterated that the right to marry is fundamental under the Due Process Clause. See, e.g., M. L. B. v. S. L. J., 519 U. S. 102, 116 (1996); Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. LaFleur, 414 U. S. 632, 639–640 (1974); Griswold, supra, at 486; Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, 316 U. S. 535, 541 (1942); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U. S. 390, 399 (1923).

It cannot be denied that this Court’s cases describing the right to marry presumed a relationship involving opposite-sex partners. The Court, like many institutions, has made assumptions defined by the world and time of which it is a part. This was evident in Baker v. Nelson, 409 U. S. 810, a one-line summary decision issued in 1972, holding the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage did not present a substantial federal question.

Still, there are other, more instructive precedents. This Court’s cases have expressed constitutional principles of broader reach. In defining the right to marry these cases have identified essential attributes of that right based in history, tradition, and other constitutional liberties inherent in this intimate bond. See, e.g., Lawrence, 539 U. S., at 574; Turner, supra, at 95; Zablocki, supra, at 384; Loving, supra, at 12; Griswold, supra, at 486. And in assessing whether the force and rationale of its cases apply to same-sex couples, the Court must respect the basic reasons why the right to marry has been long protected. See, e.g., Eisenstadt, supra, at 453–454; Poe, supra, at 542–553 (Harlan, J., dissenting).

This analysis compels the conclusion that same-sex couples may exercise the right to marry. The four principles and traditions to be discussed demonstrate that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.

A first premise of the Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy. This abiding connection between marriage and liberty is why Loving invalidated interracial marriage bans under the Due Process Clause. See 388 U. S., at 12; see also Zablocki, supra, at 384 (observing Loving held “the right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals”). Like choices concerning contraception, family relationships, procreation, and childrearing, all of which are protected by the Constitution, decisions concerning marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make. See Lawrence, supra, at 574. Indeed, the Court has noted it would be contradictory “to recognize a right of privacy with respect to other matters of family life and not with respect to the decision to enter the relationship that is the foundation of the family in our society.” Zablocki, supra, at 386.

Choices about marriage shape an individual’s destiny. As the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has explained, because “it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.” Goodridge, 440 Mass., at 322, 798 N. E. 2d, at 955.

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation. See Windsor, 570 U. S., at ___– ___ (slip op., at 22–23). There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices. Cf. Loving, supra, at 12 (“[T]he freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State”).

A second principle in this Court’s jurisprudence is that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals. This point was central to Griswold v. Connecticut, which held the Constitution protects the right of married couples to use contraception. 381 U. S., at 485. Suggesting that marriage is a right “older than the Bill of Rights,” Griswold described marriage this way: “Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions. ” Id., at 486.

And in Turner, the Court again acknowledged the intimate association protected by this right, holding prisoners could not be denied the right to marry because their committed relationships satisfied the basic reasons why marriage is a fundamental right. See 482 U. S., at 95–96. The right to marry thus dignifies couples who “wish to define themselves by their commitment to each other.” Windsor, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 14). Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.

As this Court held in Lawrence, same-sex couples have the same right as opposite-sex couples to enjoy intimate association. Lawrence invalidated laws that made samesex intimacy a criminal act. And it acknowledged that “[w]hen sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring.” 539 U. S., at 567. But while Lawrence confirmed a dimension of freedom that allows individuals to engage in intimate association without criminal liability, it does not follow that freedom stops there. Outlaw to outcast may be a step forward, but it does not achieve the full promise of liberty.

A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education. See Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U. S. 510 (1925); Meyer, 262 U. S., at 399. The Court has recognized these connections by describing the varied rights as a unified whole: “[T]he right to ‘marry, establish a home and bring up children’ is a central part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause.” Zablocki, 434 U. S., at 384 (quoting Meyer, supra, at 399). Under the laws of the several States, some of marriage’s protections for children and families are material. But marriage also confers more profound benefits. By giving recognition and legal structure to their parents’ relationship, marriage allows children “to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” Windsor, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 23). Marriage also affords the permanency and stability important to children’s best interests. See Brief for Scholars of the Constitutional Rights of Children as Amici Curiae 22–27.

As all parties agree, many same-sex couples provide loving and nurturing homes to their children, whether biological or adopted. And hundreds of thousands of children are presently being raised by such couples. See Brief for Gary J. Gates as Amicus Curiae 4. Most States have allowed gays and lesbians to adopt, either as individuals or as couples, and many adopted and foster children have same-sex parents, see id., at 5. This provides powerful confirmation from the law itself that gays and lesbians can create loving, supportive families.

Excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples. See Windsor, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 23).

That is not to say the right to marry is less meaningful for those who do not or cannot have children. An ability, desire, or promise to procreate is not and has not been a prerequisite for a valid marriage in any State. In light of the precedent protecting the right of a married couple not to procreate, it cannot be said the Court or the States have conditioned the right to marry on the capacity or commitment to procreate. The constitutional marriage right has many aspects, of which childbearing is only one.

Fourth and finally, this Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized this truth on his travels through the United States almost two centuries ago: “There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is so much respected as in America . . . [W]hen the American retires from the turmoil of public life to the bosom of his family, he finds in it the image of order and of peace . . . . [H]e afterwards carries [that image] with him into public affairs.” 1 Democracy in America 309 (H. Reeve transl., rev. ed. 1990).

In Maynard v. Hill, 125 U. S. 190, 211 (1888), the Court echoed de Tocqueville, explaining that marriage is “the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.” Marriage, the Maynard Court said, has long been “‘a great public institution, giving character to our whole civil polity.’” Id., at 213. This idea has been reiterated even as the institution has evolved in substantial ways over time, superseding rules related to parental consent, gender, and race once thought by many to be essential. See generally N. Cott, Public Vows. Marriage remains a building block of our national community.

For that reason, just as a couple vows to support each other, so does society pledge to support the couple, offering symbolic recognition and material benefits to protect and nourish the union. Indeed, while the States are in general free to vary the benefits they confer on all married couples, they have throughout our history made marriage the basis for an expanding list of governmental rights, benefits, and responsibilities. These aspects of marital status include: taxation; inheritance and property rights; rules of intestate succession; spousal privilege in the law of evidence; hospital access; medical decisionmaking authority; adoption rights; the rights and benefits of survivors; birth and death certificates; professional ethics rules; campaign finance restrictions; workers’ compensation benefits; health insurance; and child custody, support, and visitation rules. See Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 6–9; Brief for American Bar Association as Amicus Curiae 8–29. Valid marriage under state law is also a significant status for over a thousand provisions of federal law. See Windsor, 570 U. S., at ___ – ___ (slip op., at 15–16). The States have contributed to the fundamental character of the marriage right by placing that institution at the center of so many facets of the legal and social order.

There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle. Yet by virtue of their exclusion from that institution, same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage. This harm results in more than just material burdens. Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society. Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.

The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest. With that knowledge must come the recognition that laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.

Objecting that this does not reflect an appropriate framing of the issue, the respondents refer to Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S. 702, 721 (1997), which called for a “‘careful description’” of fundamental rights. They assert the petitioners do not seek to exercise the right to marry but rather a new and nonexistent “right to same-sex marriage.” Brief for Respondent in No. 14–556, p. 8. Glucksberg did insist that liberty under the Due Process Clause must be defined in a most circumscribed manner, with central reference to specific historical practices. Yet while that approach may have been appropriate for the asserted right there involved (physician-assisted suicide), it is inconsistent with the approach this Court has used in discussing other fundamental rights, including marriage and intimacy. Loving did not ask about a “right to interracial marriage”; Turner did not ask about a “right of inmates to marry”; and Zablocki did not ask about a “right of fathers with unpaid child support duties to marry.” Rather, each case inquired about the right to marry in its comprehensive sense, asking if there was a sufficient justification for excluding the relevant class from the right. See also Glucksberg, 521 U. S., at 752–773 (Souter, J., concurring in judgment); id., at 789–792 (BREYER, J., concurring in judgments).

That principle applies here. If rights were defined by who exercised them in the past, then received practices could serve as their own continued justification and new groups could not invoke rights once denied. This Court has rejected that approach, both with respect to the right to marry and the rights of gays and lesbians. See Loving 388 U. S., at 12; Lawrence, 539 U. S., at 566–567.

The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era. Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.

The right of same-sex couples to marry that is part of the liberty promised by the Fourteenth Amendment is derived, too, from that Amendment’s guarantee of the equal protection of the laws. The Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause are connected in a profound way, though they set forth independent principles. Rights implicit in liberty and rights secured by equal protection may rest on different precepts and are not always coextensive, yet in some instances each may be instructive as to the meaning and reach of the other. In any particular case one Clause may be thought to capture the essence of the right in a more accurate and comprehensive way, even as the two Clauses may converge in the identification and definition of the right. See M. L. B., 519 U. S., at 120– 121; id., at 128–129 (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment); Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U. S. 660, 665 (1983). This interrelation of the two principles furthers our understanding of what freedom is and must become.

The Court’s cases touching upon the right to marry reflect this dynamic. In Loving the Court invalidated a prohibition on interracial marriage under both the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause. The Court first declared the prohibition invalid because of its unequal treatment of interracial couples. It stated: “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.” 388 U. S., at 12.

With this link to equal protection the Court proceeded to hold the prohibition offended central precepts of liberty: “To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.” Ibid. The reasons why marriage is a fundamental right became more clear and compelling from a full awareness and understanding of the hurt that resulted from laws barring interracial unions.

The synergy between the two protections is illustrated further in Zablocki. There the Court invoked the Equal Protection Clause as its basis for invalidating the challenged law, which, as already noted, barred fathers who were behind on child-support payments from marrying without judicial approval. The equal protection analysis depended in central part on the Court’s holding that the law burdened a right “of fundamental importance.” 434 U. S., at 383. It was the essential nature of the marriage right, discussed at length in Zablocki, see id., at 383–387, that made apparent the law’s incompatibility with requirements of equality. Each concept—liberty and equal protection—leads to a stronger understanding of the other.

Indeed, in interpreting the Equal Protection Clause, the Court has recognized that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within our most fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged. To take but one period, this occurred with respect to marriage in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Notwithstanding the gradual erosion of the doctrine of coverture, see supra, at 6, invidious sex-based classifications in marriage remained common through the mid-20th century. See App. to Brief for Appellant in Reed v. Reed, O. T. 1971, No. 70–4, pp. 69–88 (an extensive reference to laws extant as of 1971 treating women as unequal to men in marriage). These classifications denied the equal dignity of men and women. One State’s law, for example, provided in 1971 that “the husband is the head of the family and the wife is subject to him; her legal civil existence is merged in the husband, except so far as the law recognizes her separately, either for her own protection, or for her benefit.” Ga. Code Ann. §53–501 (1935). Responding to a new awareness, the Court invoked equal protection principles to invalidate laws imposing sex-based inequality on marriage. See, e.g., Kirchberg v. Feenstra, 450 U. S. 455 (1981); Wengler v. Druggists Mut. Ins. Co., 446 U. S. 142 (1980); Califano v. Westcott, 443 U. S. 76 (1979); Orr v. Orr, 440 U. S. 268 (1979); Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U. S. 199 (1977) (plurality opinion); Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U. S. 636 (1975); Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U. S. 677 (1973). Like Loving and Zablocki, these precedents show the Equal Protection Clause can help to identify and correct inequalities in the institution of marriage, vindicating precepts of liberty and equality under the Constitution.

Other cases confirm this relation between liberty and equality. In M. L. B. v. S. L. J., the Court invalidated under due process and equal protection principles a statute requiring indigent mothers to pay a fee in order to appeal the termination of their parental rights. See 519 U. S., at 119–124. In Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Court invoked both principles to invalidate a prohibition on the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried persons but not married persons. See 405 U. S., at 446–454. And in Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, the Court invalidated under both principles a law that allowed sterilization of habitual criminals. See 316 U. S., at 538–543.

In Lawrence the Court acknowledged the interlocking nature of these constitutional safeguards in the context of the legal treatment of gays and lesbians. See 539 U. S., at 575. Although Lawrence elaborated its holding under the Due Process Clause, it acknowledged, and sought to remedy, the continuing inequality that resulted from laws making intimacy in the lives of gays and lesbians a crime against the State. See ibid. Lawrence therefore drew upon principles of liberty and equality to define and protect the rights of gays and lesbians, holding the State “cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.” Id., at 578.

This dynamic also applies to same-sex marriage. It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality. Here the marriage laws enforced by the respondents are in essence unequal: same-sex couples are denied all the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right. Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry works a grave and continuing harm. The imposition of this disability on gays and lesbians serves to disrespect and subordinate them. And the Equal Protection Clause, like the Due Process Clause, prohibits this unjustified infringement of the fundamental right to marry. See, e.g., Zablocki, supra, at 383–388; Skinner, 316 U. S., at 541.

These considerations lead to the conclusion that 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. No longer may this liberty be denied to them. Baker v. Nelson must be and now is overruled, and the State laws challenged by Petitioners in these cases are now held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as oppositesex couples.

IV

There may be an initial inclination in these cases to proceed with caution—to await further legislation, litigation, and debate. The respondents warn there has been insufficient democratic discourse before deciding an issue so basic as the definition of marriage. In its ruling on the cases now before this Court, the majority opinion for the Court of Appeals made a cogent argument that it would be appropriate for the respondents’ States to await further public discussion and political measures before licensing same-sex marriages. See DeBoer, 772 F. 3d, at 409.

Yet there has been far more deliberation than this argument acknowledges. There have been referenda, legislative debates, and grassroots campaigns, as well as countless studies, papers, books, and other popular and scholarly writings. There has been extensive litigation in state and federal courts. See Appendix A, infra. Judicial opinions addressing the issue have been informed by the contentions of parties and counsel, which, in turn, reflect the more general, societal discussion of same-sex marriage and its meaning that has occurred over the past decades. As more than 100 amici make clear in their filings, many of the central institutions in American life—state and local governments, the military, large and small businesses, labor unions, religious organizations, law enforcement, civic groups, professional organizations, and universities— have devoted substantial attention to the question. This has led to an enhanced understanding of the issue—an understanding reflected in the arguments now presented for resolution as a matter of constitutional law.

Of course, the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, so long as that process does not abridge fundamental rights. Last Term, a plurality of this Court reaffirmed the importance of the democratic principle in Schuette v. BAMN, 572 U. S. ___ (2014), noting the “right of citizens to debate so they can learn and decide and then, through the political process, act in concert to try to shape the course of their own times.” Id., at ___ – ___ (slip op., at 15–16). Indeed, it is most often through democracy that liberty is preserved and protected in our lives. But as Schuette also said, “[t]he freedom secured by the Constitution consists, in one of its essential dimensions, of the right of the individual not to be injured by the unlawful exercise of governmental power.” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 15). Thus, when the rights of persons are violated, “the Constitution requires redress by the courts,” notwithstanding the more general value of democratic decisionmaking. Id., at ___ (slip op., at 17). This holds true even when protecting individual rights affects issues of the utmost importance and sensitivity.

The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The Nation’s courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter. An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act. The idea of the Constitution “was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts.” West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, 638 (1943). This is why “fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” It is of no moment whether advocates of same-sex marriage now enjoy or lack momentum in the democratic process. The issue before the Court here is the legal question whether the Constitution protects the right of samesex couples to marry.

This is not the first time the Court has been asked to adopt a cautious approach to recognizing and protecting fundamental rights. In Bowers, a bare majority upheld a law criminalizing same-sex intimacy. See 478 U. S., at 186, 190–195. That approach might have been viewed as a cautious endorsement of the democratic process, which had only just begun to consider the rights of gays and lesbians. Yet, in effect, Bowers upheld state action that denied gays and lesbians a fundamental right and caused them pain and humiliation. As evidenced by the dissents in that case, the facts and principles necessary to a correct holding were known to the Bowers Court. See id., at 199 (Blackmun, J., joined by Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens, JJ., dissenting); id., at 214 (Stevens, J., joined by Brennan and Marshall, JJ., dissenting). That is why Lawrence held Bowers was “not correct when it was decided.” 539 U. S., at 578. Although Bowers was eventually repudiated in Lawrence, men and women were harmed in the interim, and the substantial effects of these injuries no doubt lingered long after Bowers was overruled. Dignitary wounds cannot always be healed with the stroke of a pen.

A ruling against same-sex couples would have the same effect—and, like Bowers, would be unjustified under the Fourteenth Amendment. The petitioners’ stories make clear the urgency of the issue they present to the Court. James Obergefell now asks whether Ohio can erase his marriage to John Arthur for all time. April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse now ask whether Michigan may continue to deny them the certainty and stability all mothers desire to protect their children, and for them and their children the childhood years will pass all too soon. Thomas Kostura now ask whether Tennessee can deny to one who has served this Nation the basic dignity of recognizing his New York marriage. Properly presented with the petitioners’ cases, the Court has a duty to address these claims and answer these questions.

Indeed, faced with a disagreement among the Courts of Appeals—a disagreement that caused impermissible geographic variation in the meaning of federal law—the Court granted review to determine whether same-sex couples may exercise the right to marry. Were the Court to uphold the challenged laws as constitutional, it would teach the Nation that these laws are in accord with our society’s most basic compact. Were the Court to stay its hand to allow slower, case-by-case determination of the required availability of specific public benefits to same-sex couples, it still would deny gays and lesbians many rights and responsibilities intertwined with marriage.

The respondents also argue allowing same-sex couples to wed will harm marriage as an institution by leading to fewer opposite-sex marriages. This may occur, the respondents contend, because licensing same-sex marriage severs the connection between natural procreation and marriage. That argument, however, rests on a counterintuitive view of opposite-sex couple’s decisionmaking processes regarding marriage and parenthood. Decisions about whether to marry and raise children are based on many personal, romantic, and practical considerations; and it is unrealistic to conclude that an opposite-sex couple would choose not to marry simply because same-sex couples may do so. See Kitchen v. Herbert, 755 F. 3d 1193, 1223 (CA10 2014) (“[I]t is wholly illogical to believe that state recognition of the love and commitment between same-sex couples will alter the most intimate and personal decisions of opposite-sex couples”). The respondents have not shown a foundation for the conclusion that allowing same-sex marriage will cause the harmful outcomes they describe. Indeed, with respect to this asserted basis for excluding same-sex couples from the right to marry, it is appropriate to observe these cases involve only the rights of two consenting adults whose marriages would pose no risk of harm to themselves or third parties.

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing samesex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.

V

These cases also present the question whether the Constitution requires States to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed out of State. As made clear by the case of Obergefell and Arthur, and by that of DeKoe and Kostura, the recognition bans inflict substantial and continuing harm on same-sex couples.

Being married in one State but having that valid marriage denied in another is one of “the most perplexing and distressing complication[s]” in the law of domestic relations. Williams v. North Carolina, 317 U. S. 287, 299 (1942) (internal quotation marks omitted). Leaving the current state of affairs in place would maintain and promote instability and uncertainty. For some couples, even an ordinary drive into a neighboring State to visit family or friends risks causing severe hardship in the event of a spouse’s hospitalization while across state lines. In light of the fact that many States already allow same-sex marriage—and hundreds of thousands of these marriages already have occurred—the disruption caused by the recognition bans is significant and ever-growing.

As counsel for the respondents acknowledged at argument, if States are required by the Constitution to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the justifications for refusing to recognize those marriages performed elsewhere are undermined. See Tr. of Oral Arg. on Question 2, p. 44. The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.

* * *

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. 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. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.
It is so ordered.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Read Obama’s Speech About Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Obama gave this speech after the historic Supreme Court ruling on Friday

Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we are all created equal. The project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times—a never-ending quest to ensure those words ring true for every single American

Progress on this journey often comes in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, compelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.

This morning, the Supreme Court recognized that the Constitution guarantees marriage equality. In doing so, they have reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the law; that all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are or who they love.

This decision will end the patchwork system we currently have. It will end the uncertainty hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples face from not knowing whether they’re marriage, legitimate in the eyes of one state, will remain if they decide to move or even visit another.

This ruling will strengthen all of our communities by offering to all loving same-sex couples the dignity of marriage across this great land.

In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. It is gratifying to see that principle enshrined into law by this decision.

This ruling is a victory for Jim Obergefell and the other plaintiffs in the case. It’s a victory for gay and lesbian couples who have so long for their basic civil rights. It’s a victory for their children, whose families will now be recognized as equal to any other. It’s a victory for the allies and friends and supporters who spent years, even decades working and praying for change to come.

And this ruling is a victory for America. This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.

My administration has been guided by that idea. It’s why we stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and why we were pleased when the court finally struck down the central provision of that discriminatory law. It’s why we ended, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

From extending full marital benefits to federal employees and their spouses to expanding hospital visitation rights for LGBT patients and their loved ones, we’ve made real progress in advancing equality for LGBT Americans in ways that were unimaginable not too long ago.

I know a change for many of our LGBT brothers and sisters must have seemed so slow for so long. But compared to so many other issues, America’s shift has been so quick.

I know that Americans of good will continue to hold a wide range of views on this issue. Opposition, in some cases, has been based on sincere and deeply held beliefs. All of us who welcome today’s news should be mindful of that fact and recognize different viewpoints, revere our deep commitment to religious freedom.

But today should also give us hope that on the many issues with which we grapple, often painfully, real change is possible. Shift in hearts and minds is possible. And those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them, because for all of our differences, we are one people, stronger together than we could ever be alone. That’s always been our story.

We are big and vast and diverse, a nation of people with different backgrounds and beliefs, different experiences and stories but bound by the shared ideal that no matter who you are or what you look like, how you started off or how and who you love, America is a place where you can write your own destiny.

We are people who believe every child is entitled to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of America to every American. But today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.

That’s the consequence of a decision from the Supreme Court, but more importantly, it is a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, talked to parents, parents who loved their children no matter what, folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts, and stayed strong, and came to believe in themselves and who they were.

And slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.

What an extraordinary achievement, but what a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things; what a reminder of what Bobby Kennedy once said about how small actions can be like pebbles being thrown into a still lake, and ripples of hope cascade outwards and change the world.

Those countless, often anonymous heroes, they deserve our thanks. They should be very proud. America should be very proud.

Thank you.

TIME White House

Obama Declares ‘Victory’ After Historic Same-Sex Marriage Decision

"This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. " Obama said Friday

President Obama declared “our union a little more perfect” on Friday after the Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marriage.

Speaking from the Rose Garden on the second day in a row that the Supreme Court handed down a historic ruling, Obama said Friday’s landmark decision could be credited not only to the Supreme Court, but also to the “countless small acts of courage” of gays, lesbians and allies who stood strong in the face of adversity over decades.

“What a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things,” Obama said Friday, speaking for just under 10 minutes. “What a reminder of what Bobby Kennedy once said about how small actions can be like pebbles being thrown into a still lake and ripples of hope cascade outwards and change the world.”

Though many Republican lawmakers stand firm in their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, there has been a seismic shift in the country’s feeling on the subject. On Friday, the Supreme Court affirmed that point of view, declaring that states do not have the right to keep same-sex couples from getting married, and that gay and lesbian couples have the legal right to marry in the U.S.

Obama’s celebration of Friday’s ruling came just one day after he declared “victory” for his signature health care law, which the Supreme Court saved from being upended, and he used the same word to describe the same-sex marriage decision.

“It’s a victory for gay and lesbian couples who have fought so long for their basic civil rights. It’s a victory for their children, whose families will now be recognized as equal to any other,” Obama said Friday. “And this ruling is a victory for America. This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”

Obama said that though the U.S. was founded on the principle that all were created equal, each generation has faced its own test to ensure that those words ring true for all.

“Progress on this journey often comes in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, compelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens,” he said. “And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”

TIME 2016 Election

Presidential Candidates Respond to Supreme Court Marriage Ruling

White House aspirants were out with statements responding to the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide within seconds of the decision being announced Friday morning.

Democrats were elated with the decision, following that party’s swift turn on the issue over the last decade. The Republican reaction was more mixed, with all expressing disappointment with the high court’s ruling, but disagreeing on the next steps forward.

Social conservatives pledged to continue to keep fighting against same-sex marriage, while other candidates said they would move to ensure that those who object to such unions were not punished for their beliefs.

Gay Marriage US Supreme Court Ruling
Joshua Roberts—ReutersSupporters of gay marriage rally after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry at the Supreme Court in Washington June 26, 2015.

Here are the reactions, in roughly chronological order:

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D):

Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that marriage is a human right — not a state right. I’m grateful to the people of Maryland for leading the way on this important issue of human dignity and equality under the law. The American Dream is strongest when all are included.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D):

Along with millions of Americans, I am celebrating today’s landmark victory for marriage equality, and the generations of advocates and activists who fought to make it possible. From Stonewall to the Supreme Court, the courage and determination of the LGBT community has changed hearts and changed laws.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R):

The Supreme Court has spoken with a very divided voice on something only the Supreme Being can do — redefine marriage. I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R):

The Supreme Court decision today conveniently and not surprisingly follows public opinion polls, and tramples on states’ rights that were once protected by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution. Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that.

This decision will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision. This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (D):

For far too long our justice system has marginalized the gay community and I am very glad the Court has finally caught up to the American people.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R):

Guided by my faith, I believe in traditional marriage. 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. In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R):

I believe this Supreme Court decision is a grave mistake. Five unelected judges have taken it upon themselves to redefine the institution of marriage, an institution that the author of this decision acknowledges “has been with us for millennia.” In 2006 I, like millions of Americans, voted to amend our state constitution to protect the institution of marriage from exactly this type of judicial activism. The states are the proper place for these decisions to be made, and as we have seen repeatedly over the last few days, we will need a conservative president who will appoint men and women to the Court who will faithfully interpret the Constitution and laws of our land without injecting their own political agendas. As a result of this decision, the only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R):

I am a proud defender of traditional marriage and believe the people of each state should have the right to determine their marriage laws. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that state bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional, and I will respect the Court’s decision. Furthermore, given the quickly changing tide of public opinion on this issue, I do not believe that an attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution could possibly gain the support of three-fourths of the states or a supermajority in the U.S. Congress. Rather than pursuing a divisive effort that would be doomed to fail, I am committing myself to ensuring the protection of religious liberties of all Americans

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (R):

I call on Congress to make sure deeply held religious views are respected and protected. The government must never force Christians to violate their religious beliefs.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R):

Justice Alito spoke for so many of us when he said that “[t]oday’s decision usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage … All Americans, whatever their thinking on that issue, should worry about what the majority’s claim of power portends.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R):

While I disagree with this decision, we live in a republic and must abide by the law. As we look ahead, it must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R):

I am disappointed the Supreme Court today chose to change the centuries old definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. I’m a firm believer in traditional marriage, and I also believe the 10th Amendment leaves it to each state to decide this issue. I fundamentally disagree with the court rewriting the law and assaulting the 10th Amendment. Our founding fathers did not intend for the judicial branch to legislate from the bench, and as president, I would appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written.

TIME Supreme Court

Antonin Scalia to Justices: This is No Smarter Than a ‘Fortune Cookie’

Read the Supreme Court Justice's dissent on gay marriage

Justice Antonin Scalia told his Supreme Court colleagues that their legal reasoning in the court’s 5-4 ruling that states must license same-sex marriage and recognize similar unions from other states didn’t rise above the level of wisdom delivered to dinners at the end of a Chinese meal.

“The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie,” he wrote in his dissent to the court’s decision which effectively ended a long legal battle over marriage rights.

“The opinion,” Scalia wrote elsewhere of the majority’s reasoning, “is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic.”

(Scalia appeared to be referencing one of the very first lines of the majority opinion, which notes that Confucius—long a staple of fortune cookie quotations—taught “that marriage lies at the foundation of government.”)

The conservative justice criticized his colleagues for thwarting democracy by ending the debate taken places in state legislatures and at the ballot box throughout the United States over marriage rights: “What really astounds,” Scalia wrote, “is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial Putsch.”

He told his colleagues that their backgrounds make them “strikingly unrepresentative” of the American people: “This Court, which consists of only nine men and women, all of them successful lawyers who studied at Harvard or Yale Law School. Four of the nine are natives of New York City. Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States. Only one hails from the vast expanse in-between. Not a single Southwesterner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner (California does not count). Not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans), or even a Protestant of any denomination.”

Finally, Scalia warned that the ruling to extend marriage rights to gay couples across the country would rob the court of its power: “Hubris is sometimes defined as o’erweening pride; and pride, we know, goeth before a fall. The Judiciary is the “least dangerous” of the federal branches because it has “neither Force nor Will, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm” and the States, “even for the efficacy of its judgments.”

With each decision of ours that takes from the People a question properly left to them—with each decision that is unabashedly based not on law, but on the “reasoned judgment” of a bare majority of this Court—we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence.

TIME Supreme Court

Read the 7 Most Memorable Passages in the Gay Marriage Decision

Supreme Court rulings are typically dry legalistic documents, but Friday’s decision recognizing gay marriage nationwide was more lyrical than most.

Here are some of the most memorable passages from the majority opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

He begins by describing the 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.

He tells the love story of the main plaintiff

Petitioner James Obergefell, a plaintiff in the Ohio case, met John Arthur over two decades ago. They fell in love and started a life together, establishing a lasting, committed relation. In 2011, 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.

He gives a short but powerful description of why people marry

Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.

He argues that barring same-sex marriage harms couples

Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society. Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.

He explains how a ruling would affect all of the plaintiffs

James Obergefell now asks whether Ohio can erase his marriage to John Arthur for all time. April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse now ask whether Michigan may continue to deny them the certainty and stability all mothers desire to protect their children, and for them and their children the childhood years will pass all too soon. Ijpe DeKoe and Thomas Kostura now ask whether Tennessee can deny to one who has served this Nation the basic dignity of recognizing his New York marriage.

He concludes by again explaining the importance of marriage

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. 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.

And he reverses the lower-court decision, recognizing gay marriage across the nation

It is so ordered.

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Orders States to Recognize Same-Sex Marriage

The Supreme Court declared by a margin of 5 to 4 Friday that states must license same-sex marriages and recognize similar unions from other states, effectively ending a long legal battle over the marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, who delivered the opinion for the court. “[The challengers] ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

The high court’s historic ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges will expand the recognition of gay marriages beyond the 37 states and Washington, D.C., where it is currently legal, to all 50, affording same-sex couples the same rights and benefits long conferred on heterosexual unions.

Already, couples in the remaining states that had not yet recognized gay marriage have been planning weddings, and research from the Williams Institute indicates the ruling may even inspire couples who already could legally marry in other states to tie the knot as well.

Speaking from the White House, President Obama praised the decision, arguing that it was a sign of progress.

Progress comes “sometimes two steps forward, one step back propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens,” Obama said. “But then sometimes there are days like this when that slow steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”

Among the Republicans running to replace Obama, the ruling was roundly rejected, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio arguing that it was simply a poor decision the country must learn to live with, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as an act of “judicial tyranny” that must be resisted.

The ruling finishes a project begun by Justice Anthony Kennedy in 1996 with a landmark decision that overturned an anti-gay rights ballot measure in Colorado. That opinion laid the groundwork for the Supreme Court to throw out sodomy laws in 2003 and invalidate a ban on federal recognition of gay marriage in 2013, also authored by Kennedy, which undergirded Friday’s 5-4 decision. Kennedy argued that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which promises equal protection for all citizens under the law, forced states to recognize same-sex nuptials.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the principle dissent, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas. They argued that the court was overstepping its bounds by taking an action better left to the democratic process. “This Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us,” Roberts wrote. “In short, our Constitution does not enact any one theory of marriage. The people of a State are free to expand marriage to include same-sex couples, or to retain the historic definition.”

Justices Scalia, Thomas and Samuel Alito wrote additional dissents. Scalia said he wrote “to call attention to this Court’s threat to American democracy.” “Today’s decree says that my Rular, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nice lawyers on the Supreme Court,” Scalia warned. “The five Justices who compose today’s majority are entirely comfortable concluding that every state violated the Constitution for all of the 135 years between the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification and Massachusetts’ permitting of same-sex marriage in 2003.”

There will be other fights in courthouses and capitols across the country. Gays and lesbians still face discrimination in housing and employment, while the country has only recently begun to tackle the issues faced by transgender Americans. Debates over the tension between religious liberty and discrimination will continue.

In the court of public opinion, the fight over gay marriage has been over since 2011, when Gallup first recorded a majority in favor, and the win has only become more decisive. A survey released in May showed a record-high 60 percent of Americans now approve of same-sex marriage.

MORE: New Strategy Against Gay Marriage Divides GOP 2016 Field

TIME Gay Marriage

How the Supreme Court’s Marriage Ruling Puts Some Gays and Lesbians at Risk

It could put them at risk of housing or employment discrimination, and it's all perfectly legal.

As a member of the City Council, the late Harvey Milk was nothing if not practical, becoming the first openly gay elected official in California in part by campaigning for a pooper scooper law. So it was in that spirit that one of his friends, the legendary gay rights activist Cleve Jones, recently mused to a meeting with local reporters in San Francisco about the possibility the Supreme Court would expand gay marriage nationwide.

“Now what?” Jones said, channeling his one-time mentor while standing not far from a statue of him. “What about that kid that’s still in Altoona, Pennsylvania? What about that lesbian couple in Birmingham, Alabama? What about that trans cop in Jackson, Mississippi? What about their lives?”

The answer may not be as uplifting as Friday’s news promised. While the court’s ruling in favor of gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges is a historic milestone in the gay rights movement that will help tens of thousands of Americans enjoy the benefits of a legal recognition of their unions, there is an undercurrent of risk too. In those parts of the country that do not bar discrimination in housing or employment, gay marriage may make some gays and lesbians more vulnerable.

Take Texas, a state where gay marriages have not been recognized. Pretty soon, a gay man might be able to head to Abilene City Hall for a marriage license and take his vows with his longtime partner. His boss could then fire him and his landlord start eviction proceedings based on his sexual orientation, and it would be perfectly legal.

“At the very moment that same-sex couples in the majority of states in this country partake in that new right that they have, to marry to person that they love, that wedding happens at 10 a.m. They can be fired by noon and evicted from their homes by 2 p.m.,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, tells TIME in an interview. “All in the same day, simply for posting the wedding photo on Facebook.”

And it’s not just Texas. Indeed, more than 206 million Americans — nearly two thirds of the country — live in states where employers can be fired someone for being gay. Only 18 states and the District of Columbia prohibit housing discrimination based on a tenant’s sexuality or sexual identity. Three others prohibit discrimination on sexuality. The remaining 166 million Americans live in states where landlords can evict someone for their sexuality. Friday’s ruling had no effect on what conservative attorney Ted Olson, who argued California’s landmark same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court, called a “crazy quilt” of laws that unequally treat gays and lesbians.

“The freedom to marry would open many doors, but it does not eliminate discrimination and violence against LGBT people and people living with HIV,” said Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director of Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group. “And our well-funded opponents would not stop trying to roll back our advances.”

For instance, this population can, in most of America, be denied a job, a house or an education. At the same time, serving on jury can be predicated on a potential juror’s sexuality in most of the country. (Only in the liberal Ninth Circuit have courts found parties cannot exclude jurors based on their sexuality.) And religious liberty laws permit people of faith deny goods or services to gays and lesbians. Cakes, flowers and even pizza can be denied to same-sex couples in the name of religion.

At the same time, banks and other lenders can legally consider a person’s sexuality in determining creditworthiness, and institutions such as emergency management programs or homeless shelters can deny services to gays and lesbians. A report from the liberal Center for American Progress found that one in five homeless youths who were gay couldn’t access short-term services or shelters and another 16 percent rejected for long-term help because of their sexuality.

“Most Americans believe that there are these comprehensive protections in place because it’s so clearly, morally wrong,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign. “They can’t reconcile that with the fact that there aren’t these protections in every community. It’s why people think organizations like (the Human Rights Campaign) are going to pack it up and call it a day after marriage equality because it doesn’t comport with their view of how the world should operate.”

It’s one of the reasons the Human Rights Campaign is now turning its focus on to efforts to add city- and state-based protections, as well as gearing up for a fight on a federal non-discrimination law. Previous efforts have failed to gain traction and most Republicans oppose the proposals. Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon has been working on a comprehensive non-discrimination bill and aides say he could introduce it to the full Senate as early as July. When he does, the 1.5 million-member Human Rights Campaign plans to advocate for it.

“Even with a positive ruling, we’re still not totally equal,” said Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff whose case the Court decided. Obergefell has been traveling the country trying to rally support in places like Dallas, Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio. “Everywhere I go, people come up and thank me.” His allies at the Human Rights Campaign liken him to civil rights leader Rosa Parks or Edie Windsor, whose 2013 case to the Supreme Court opened the rapid expansion of same-sex marriage rights.

“No one would could have predicted this would happen so soon,” said Griffin, who shares an Arkansas hometown with former President Bill Clinton and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. “You go back 6, 7, 8 years. We were losing every battle in the country. The opponents were beating the heck out of us at the ballot box and at state legislatures.”

Then, courts started siding with gay rights activists and public opinion started a rapid shift. Vice President Joe Biden came out in favor of same-sex marriage, followed by President Obama. The pair became the first political ticket to win the White House on a platform that backed same-sex marriage. The issue seems to have lost its political valence, although the culture warriors are hardly giving up. It is certain they will oppose the non-discrimination law when it is introduced later this summer.

“That’s going to take a very long time. It’s going to take us years to get there,” Griffin concedes. But he insists he is not disheartened that yet the victory is incomplete. “It’s our job to roll out our sleeves and get to work harder than we’ve even worked before, and say, ‘Now what?’ to that question that Harvey would have asked,” Griffin said. “We can’t slow down. We can’t kick back and we can’t step back. And we can’t be patient.”

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Same-sex couples now have right to marry in all 50 states

(WASHINGTON) — The Supreme Court declared Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States.

Gay and lesbian couples already can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The court’s 5-4 ruling means the remaining 14 states, in the South and Midwest, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.

The outcome is the culmination of two decades of Supreme Court litigation over marriage, and gay rights generally.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, just as he did in the court’s previous three major gay rights cases dating back to 1996. It came on the anniversary of two of those earlier decisions.

“No union is more profound than marriage,” Kennedy wrote, joined by the court’s four more liberal justices.

The ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration. But some state officials and county clerks might decide there is little risk in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The cases before the court involved laws from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Those states have not allowed same-sex couples to marry within their borders and they also have refused to recognize valid marriages from elsewhere.

Just two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law that denied a range of government benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

The decision in United States v. Windsor did not address the validity of state marriage bans, but courts across the country, with few exceptions, said its logic compelled them to invalidate state laws that prohibited gay and lesbian couples from marrying.

The number of states allowing same-sex marriage has grown rapidly. As recently as October, just over one-third of the states permitted same-sex marriage.

There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans. Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says. Roughly 1 million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the United States, the institute says.

The Obama administration backed the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Justice Department’s decision to stop defending the federal anti-marriage law in 2011 was an important moment for gay rights and President Barack Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage in 2012.

Read next: Marriage Equality Is an Older Idea Than You Think

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