The Supreme Court on Friday cloaked its landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in language about the desire gay couples feel for recognition and dignity in the eyes of the law. And the 5-4 majority opinion in the case, Obergefell v. Hodges, closed with a powerful statement on the nature of the marital bond.
“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. 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.”
But for the men and women affected by the decision, the ruling will have effects that go well beyond the simple recognition of a lifelong commitment.
Amidst a joyful crowd in front of the United States Supreme Court building Friday morning, John Assini and Matt Nocella, two young men currently engaged to be married, considered the ruling and what it would mean for them.
John Assini, at left, originally from Reading, MA and Matt Nocella, originally from Berlin, NJ, are engaged to be married. They say the Supreme Court decision issued Friday will provide them “significant financial security.”
“It means that the Supreme Court affirms that gays and lesbians have the same rights as straights, and the equal protections that are afforded through marriage can now be afforded to anyone that’s in a loving, caring relationship that wants to commit themselves to each other,” said Assini.
Nocella added, “I think it’s really important too that this is a stepping stone for other things, like employment non-discrimination — in a lot of the states where you can get married now, you can still get fired for being gay.”
Gay couples have also faced considerable financial disadvantages in cases where they have been unable to marry, and many have found it difficult, in the event of a partner’s death, to establish ownership over property that was held in that person’s name.
“It also provides significant financial security to people in a relationship because when folks are married the assets get switched over to a spouse much easier — there’s sort of a check all box when it comes down to all the extraneous things that come along with being in a committed relationship,” Assini said.
The four most conservative judges on the court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, each wrote dissenting opinions, arguing in large part that the majority had wrongly made a decision that ought to have been left to the voters and their elected representatives.
Cautioning that his dissent should not be read as an opinion on gay marriage itself, Roberts argued that the court, “seizes for itself a question the Constitution leaves to the people, at a time when the people are engaged in a vibrant debate on that question. And it answers that question based not on neutral principles of constitutional law, but on its own ‘understanding of what freedom is and must become.’”
A banner unfurled in front of the Court read, “Liberation Can’t Wait.”
Scalia, who has been openly critical of homosexual conduct in the past and has said that laws ought to be able to reflect society’s “moral disapproval” of homosexuality, professed in his dissent not to care a bit whether gay marriage was legal, but said he was deeply offended by the idea that the decision was made by the court and not the voters. He described the majority’s ruling as a “Putsch” guided by “hubris.”
Scalia even descended from the realm of legal analysis to delve into a bit of literary criticism.
“The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic. It is one thing for separate concurring or dissenting opinions to contain extravagances, even silly extravagances, of thought and expression; it is something else for the official opinion of the Court to do so. Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent.”
Like Roberts, Scalia blasted the majority for, in his view, short-circuiting a Democratic process that was under way. “Until the courts put a stop to it, public debate over same-sex marriage displayed American democracy at its best. Individuals on both sides of the issue passionately, but respectfully, attempted to persuade their fellow citizens to accept their views,” he wrote.
Some might question just how “respectful” the debate has been — even from Scalia himself. But in front of the court, a celebratory crowd was interested neither in Justice Kennedy’s literary stylings or, as it turned out, complaints about the court daring to rule on a topic being discussed in the public forum.
A group of people gathered in front of the court unfurled a banner more than 10 feet long that read, in large stenciled letters, “Liberation Can’t Wait.”
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