Same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states, at last

On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that states can no longer legally ban same-sex couples from marrying, and must recognize same-sex unions — thus legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States. In a monumental and long-awaited decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy — who was largely speculated as the “pivotal swing vote” in the case — wrote the majority opinion for the court (representing Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen G. Breyer), and the four dissenting justices each wrote their own opinions: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Samuel Alito.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” Kennedy wrote for the majority opinion. “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.”

President Barack Obama took to Twitter to voice his support of this monumental victory for marriage equality and millions of people everywhere.

For some background, the case of Obergefell v. Hodges specifically focused on the same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee — and whether these bans were constitutional based on the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court had to address two main issues: Whether states can legally ban same-sex marriage, and whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states. Before the court’s ruling, same-sex marriage was prohibited in 13 states.

Many outlets speculated that the case had three likely outcomes. The court could find same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional, thus lifting any remaining state bans and effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States (the actual outcome). Or the court could go the opposite direction, and decide to uphold bans — which, as NPR points out, would have been more complicated than it might seem at first glance. This option would leave 20 states “up in the air legally,” including cases where federal action previously struck down state bans.

The third possibility was a hybrid of the two: Ruling it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the rights of marriage, without legally requiring states to allow them to marry. This, of course, was the trickiest option of the three — but at the very least would have meant that same-sex marriages would be legally recognized nationwide.

But today the court decided to rule in favor of equality and love — and we are overjoyed by the outcome. Apparently, we aren’t alone, either. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans (57%) support same-sex marriage, and 72% believe that the legal recognition of same-sex marriages was inevitable. (Other independent surveys, like this one from The Washington Post, estimates that support of same-sex marriage is actually even higher.) These numbers show a vast shift in views from just 15 years ago — and that shift is in part thanks to the younger generation, which tends to skew in favor of marriage equality compared to its older counterparts, even within traditionally conservative groups.

Kennedy addressed this shift in his majority opinion.

“The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society,” Kennedy wrote. “The past alone does not rule the present. The nature of injustice is that we do not always see it in our own time.”

As of last year, the U.S. Census reported that same-sex couples made up less than half of one percent of marriages in the United States. This, of course, is wildly disproportionate both from the estimated number of same-sex couple households in the U.S. (almost 600,000) and the percentage of same-sex couples who — you know, might just be interested in getting married one day.

Today’s verdict is a long-awaited one in the fight for same-sex couples to benefit from the same rights and privileges that heterosexual couples are afforded in marriage. It’s a victory for love, for equal rights, and for this country.

(Image via Shutterstock.)