These 5 Passages from Justice Kennedy's Marriage Equality Opinion Are Worth Reading

June 26th 2015

On Friday, June 26 -- 12 years to the day after the Lawrence v. Texas decision, and two years exactly after the decision in United States v. Windsor -- the U.S. Supreme Court deemed that same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marriage. The Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalized same-sex marriage across all 50 states in a historic day for LGBT equality. Justice Anthony Kennedy proved to be the swing vote in the 5-4 decision (with all four dissenters writing their own dissenting opinions). Kennedy also wrote the sweeping opinion for the majority. Here are the five most profound statements from today's historic ruling:

1. The right is inherent under due process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment:

"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."

2. This segment seems to aim directly at the dissent, who argued the opposite:

"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."

3. Here Kennedy invokes the petitioners whose cases were being heard:

"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. Ijpe DeKoe and 26 OBERGEFELL v. HODGES Opinion of the Court 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."

4. Again affirming that the Supreme Court needed to rule on this as not to deny rights to same-sex couples:

"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."

5. This is the concluding paragraph -- and perhaps the most moving section of the ruling:

"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."

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