For the first time in the nation's history, gay couples in all 50 states now have a constitutional right to marry.
In a landmark ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court ruled to legalize gay marriage. With a 5-4 vote, the justices ruled that state prohibitions on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution.
In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy's closing read:
It would misunderstand [same-sex couples] 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.
While the decision is being celebrated, perhaps it didn't come as much of a surprise. Nearly two-thirds of Americans expected the highest court to rule in favor of gay marriage, according to a poll by nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute earlier this month.
During the hearing in late April, the nine Supreme Court justices appeared to be closely divided along liberal and conservative lines. Kennedy, who wrote the court's three prior decisions recognizing and expanding gay rights over the past 20 years, seemed conflicted on the definition and purpose of marriage.
The justices deliberated on the traditional meaning of marriage, questioning the relatively contemporary idea of marriage equality. Some also questioned the court's place in changing that long-standing definition of the term. Justice Stephen G. Breyer asked attorney for the plaintiffs and revered gay rights activist, Mary L. Bonauto:
The opposite view [of marriage being between a man and woman] has been the law everywhere for thousands of years. Suddenly you want nine people outside the ballot box to require states to change [this view].
The sudden surge of support for gay marriage over the past two years saw it legalized in many states. Before the SCOTUS ruling, same-sex marriage was legal in 37 states.
But those in opposition framed it as an issue that conflicted with religious freedom. Indiana, for example, passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that allowed businesses to decline serving customers if it were contrary to their religious beliefs. Many said it would give businesses free rein to discriminate against the LGBT community and the bill faced unexpectedly harsh backlash across the nation.
As the 13 other states make moves to legalize gay marriage, those who were previously banned from officiating their union under law are now free to do so. Friday's Supreme Court ruling will go down in the history books as a turning point in America's social progress.
We'll update as more information is released.
[Cover image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images News]
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