“Marriage is a basic human right.
Youcannot tell people that they cannot fall in love”. Thisquote comes from the one and only Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Although it has towith the issue of interracial marriage, the same principles apply for same-sexmarriage. Same-sex marriage has been one of the most controversial topics inrecent decades. Certainly everybody has heard about this issue and almosteveryone has their own opinion about it.
Some believe it should not be allowedand others believe the contrary. The recent court case of Obergefell v. Hodges is one that lead to such a landmark decisionand will forever be remembered in the LGBTQ community. On June 26, 2015 and ina 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right tomarry in all 50 states. Before getting into the details of the case and whythis decision was made, it is important to understand a little bit of thehistory behind the subject and what led to this result.
On May 18, 1970 two men named JackBaker and Michael McConnell walked into a Minneapolis courthouse with $10 andtried to apply for a marriage license. Baker was a law student and McConnellwas a librarian. The two had met at a Halloween party in Oklahoma in 1966.
Inthe courthouse, the county clerk named Gerald Nelson, refused to give them alicense and told them that marriage was meant for partners of the opposite sex.After the clerk rejected their application, Baker and McConnell sued in a statecourt. Baker argued that only allowing opposite-sex couples to marry was unconstitutionaland discriminatory. He believed that it was a violation of the 14thamendment because it violated both the equal protection and due processclauses. He compared his case to the Lovingv. Virginia case, which was an interracial marriage case in 1967 in which theSupreme Court ruled that state bans were unconstitutional.
This case has beenused as precedent for many same-sex marriage cases. Ultimately the trial courtruled in favor of Mr. Nelson.
Baker and McConnell decided to appeal, but wereshut down once again. The state Supreme Court agreed with the trial judge’sdecision. The couple once again appealed to the United States Supreme Court in1972, but the court declined to hear the case “for want of a substantialfederal question”. The right for people of the same-sex to have aconstitutional privilege to get married, was apparently too baffling to even consider.
The denial to hear the case forced all of the lower courts to interpret a veryunexplained decision regarding same-sex marriage. In other words, it was up toeach state to decide whether they wanted to make it legal or not. This was nota good sign for those hoping to see gay marriage become legalized nationally. In 1973, Maryland was the firststate to make a law that stated marriage was explicitly for a man and woman. In1975, Virginia followed their lead, as well as Florida, California, and Wyomingin 1977. It would not be until the late 1993 that states voted in favor ofsame-sex marriage.
In 1993, the Hawaii state Supreme Court ruled in the case Baehr v. Lewin that not allowing peopleof the same of the sex to get married could be unconstitutional. It was thefirst time that any state hinted toward making gay marriage legal. This decisionsparked a lot of outrage for heterosexual marriage supporters. In response tothe decision, the United States Congress passed the Defense of Marriage act(DOMA) in 1996 and it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
This law didnot necessarily ban gay marriage, but it specifically said that only partnersof the opposite sex were allowed to have federal marriage benefits. Even if astate did choose to legalize it, benefits such as filing taxes jointly orspousal social security payments would not be allowed. This setback led toHawaii completely banning gay marriage in 1998. As a result, this created atrend throughout the United States for the next decade. The year 2004 wasespecially notable for state level bans. Along with ten conservative states, Oregonpassed a law that prohibited gay marriage.
Texas and Kansas also did in 2005.It would not be until 2010 that same-sex supporters started to become hopefulonce again. In 2010, same-sex marriage onceagain became a federal issue because of a case known as United States v.
Windsor. It all started in 2007 when a lesbiancouple whose names were Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, got married in Ontario,Canada. The state of New York, where the couple resided, recognized theirmarriage. Nonetheless, the federal government, thanks to the Defense ofMarriage Act (DOMA), did not. When Thea Spyer passed away in 2009, she hadsigned to leave her estate to Edith Windsor. Unfortunately, since the FederalGovernment did not legally recognize their marriage, Ms. Windsor did not qualifyfor a tax exemption for being a surviving spouse.
This caused the government toenforce a $363,000 estate tax. Edith decided to sue the United StatesGovernment, and it’s a good thing she did. Shortly after she sued in 2010,Barack Obama’s administration announced that they no longer supported DOMA.
After that, the 2nd United States Court of Appeals decided thatsection 3 of DOMA, which prohibited the financial benefits to same-sex couplesviolated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. In 2013and in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court confirmed this decision and officiallyruled that section 3 was unconstitutional. This decision did abolish the prohibitionof the federal benefits to same-sex partners, but it did not create a constitutionalright to allow them to marry. In June 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges completely eradicated the power ofDOMA. This case not only included Jim Obergefell, but also many other same-sexcouples who sued their own states for failure to recognize their marriages.
JimObergefell, who led all the plaintiffs, sued because he was not allowed to puthis name on the death certificate of his partner. Together they argued thatsection two of DOMA, which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sexmarriage, was unconstitutional. The trial courts sided with the plaintiffs andthe 6th Circuit of the U.S.
Court of Appeals disagreed. That is what led to thecase to be brought to the United States Supreme Court. Ultimately, the decidingvote came down to conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy. He was the same judgewho the deciding vote in United States v.Windsor.
He voted in favor of Jim Obergefell and officially made same-sexmarriage legal throughout the entire country. There is no question that this court casewas one of the biggest turning points in American politics, along with historyof this country. Whether people want to admit or not, the right decision inthis case was made. This decision has brought happiness to millions of peopleand has completely changed their lives for the better.
It has given the peopleof the LGBTQ community a reason to finally believe that their civil rights arejust as important as everybody else’s.