26 June 2015

Law in Plain English: Same Sex Marriage Cases

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogObergefell v. Hodges (consolidated with Tanco v. Haslam, DeBoer v. Snyder, Bourke v. Beshear)

Argument: Apr 28 2014 (Aud.)


Background: James Obergefell and John Arthur are from Ohio, and were married in Maryland. When Arthur died, Ohio would not list Obergefell as his spouse on their death certificates. Obergefell sought an injunction to require the State to list him as a spouse on the certificate. The district court concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment protects a fundamental right to keep existing marital relationships intact, and that the State failed to justify its law under heightened scrutiny. The court likewise concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation deserve heightened scrutiny under equal protection, and that Ohio failed to justify its refusal to recognize the couples’ existing marriages. Even under rational basis review, the court added, the State came up short. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that the Due Process Clause or the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not require States to expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. Further, the court found that the Constitution does prohibit a State from denying recognition to same-sex marriages conducted in other States.

Issue: The questions before the Court: 1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? 2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

Holding: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment 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.
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