Gay Marriage Is Legal in All 50 States: Supreme Court

gay marriage
Supporters of gay marriage rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on June 26. Joshua Roberts/Reuters

The Supreme Court on Friday legalized same-sex marriage in the United States.

In the 5-4 landmark decision, the majority of justices ruled that states must license same-sex marriages and also recognize gay marriages performed legally in other states.

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "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," he continued.

Kennedy, who delivered the opinion of the court, was joined in the majority by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The dissenters were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Each filed their own dissenting opinion.

The decision upholds the Fourteenth Amendment that requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state, according to the court document.

"They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right," the majority wrote.

Prior to the ruling, the nine-justice court seemed split, with four supposedly opposing and four supporting. Kennedy, who wrote the court's previous three decisions on gay rights, had been the likely deciding vote.

Before the decision was handed down, 36 states and the District of Columbia allowed gay couples to marry. The remaining 14 states with existing bans argued that the decision should be left to the people, not the federal court.

The case before the country's highest court focused on same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Fourteen same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners are deceased had filed suits in federal district courts, claiming that their state officials violated the Fourteenth Amendment by denying them the right to marry. Each district court ruled in the petitioners' favor, but the Sixth Circuit combined the cases and reversed the decisions.

It was possible for the justices to rule that it's unconstitutional to deny gay couples all of the rights and privileges of marriage without requiring states to allow them to wed.

It arguably was the largest case remaining in the final days of the court's term before it ends next Tuesday. The United States joined 21 other countries in legalizing gay marriage, including Argentina, Brazil and Ireland.

In 1996, former President Bill Clinton signed ​the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law, thus banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Almost two decades later, in June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down DOMA by declaring it unconstitutional because it barred federal recognition of gay rights. The justices also ruled then against California's same-sex marriage ban, known as "Prop 8." Both decisions were major victories for supporters of marriage equality.

The decision came as cities across the country prepare to celebrate LGBT Pride Month events this weekend. The annual celebration honors the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, the birthplace of the gay rights movement in the United States. In June of that year, patrons at The Stonewall Inn fought against a police raid targeting the gay bar. At the time, it was illegal to serve alcohol to gay people. Earlier this week, the inn was declared a historic landmark.

Public support for same-sex marriage recently was at a record high, according to a survey conducted in early May by the Pew Research Center. A 57 percent majority of Americans said they supported allowing gay marriage, and 39 percent opposed the issue. As recently as five years ago, only 42 percent of residents said they favored same-sex marriage, according to Pew.

The survey, which polled 2,002 adults, also found that some groups continued to be broadly opposed to gay marriage.

Previously, the justices on Thursday handed a big victory to President Barack Obama by upholding tax subsidies crucial to the implementation of his signature health care law.

Supreme Court Decision Making Gay Marriage is Legal in All 50 States