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June 26, 2015 marks an important milestone for civil rights in the United States, as the Supreme Court announces its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, for one vote, court rules that same-sex marriage cannot be prohibited in the United States and that all same-sex marriages should be recognized across the country, finally giving same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples under the law.
In 1971, just two years after the Stonewall riots unofficially ushered in the fight for gay rights and marriage equality, lhe Minnesota Supreme Court declared the same-sex marriage ban constitutional, a precedent the Supreme Court had never questioned.
As homosexuality became more and more accepted in American culture, the conservative backlash was strong enough to force President Bill Clinton to sign the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits the recognition of marriages between of the same sex at the federal level, and became law in 1996.
Over the next decade, many states banned same-sex marriage, while Vermont instituted same-sex civil unions in 2000 and Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003.
Gay marriage was the predominant “culture war” theme of the presidency of George W. Bush, and even his successor Barack Obama, elected on a platform of liberal change in 2008, did not fully endorse same-sex marriage at the time of their election.
Obama stated his opposition to DOMA and instructed his Justice Department to stop defending it in 2011. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional and refused to rule on a case involving the California ban, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage there.
Obergefell originated with a gay couple, Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who were married in Maryland, where same-sex marriage was legal, but whose marriage was not recognized by Ohio authorities. As is often the case with Supreme Court cases, several similar cases in Ohio and elsewhere were consolidated into what became Obergefell v. Hodges.
The Supreme Court heard arguments on April 28, 2015. On June 26, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of the plaintiffs, stating that both the ban on same-sex marriages and the ban on recognizing same-sex marriages were unconstitutional.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said: “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, same-sex couples cannot they can be deprived of that right and that freedom.”
Chief Justice John Roberts and three Associate Justices (Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito) wrote dissenting opinions. The ruling overturned the 13 state bans still in place and resolved the issue at the federal level, though some rogue counties ignored the ruling.