Gay and lesbian couples could already 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, must stop enforcing bans on same-sex marriage.
The outcome is the culmination of two decades of Supreme Court litigation over marriage, and gay rights generally.
It's a new day. Thank you Supreme Court. Thank you Justice Kennedy. Your opinion is profound, in more ways than you may know. #huzzah— Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) June 26, 2015
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.
Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else. #LoveWins— President Obama (@POTUS44) June 26, 2015
The four dissenting justices each filed opinions explaining their views.
“But this court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in dissent.
Roberts read a summary of his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in nearly 10 years as chief justice.
Justice Antonin Scalia said he is not concerned so much about same-sex marriage, but about “this court’s threat to American democracy”.
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 licences 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 have also refused to recognise 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 validity of state marriage bans, but courts across the country said its logic compelled them to invalidate state laws that prohibited gay and lesbian couples from marrying.