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Five years after the Supreme Court’s historic equal marriage ruling, love is still winning and the community is still fighting

Patrick Kelleher June 26, 2020
same-sex marriage united states

A campaigner outside the Supreme Court in 2015 (Drew Angerer/Getty)

Friday (June 26) marks five years since the United States Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land in a landmark ruling.

The momentous Obergefell v. Hodges ruling paved the way for queer people right across the country to marry, regardless of their gender.

That decision radically changed life for queer couples in states where same-sex marriage was not yet legal. It meant that, for the first time, their relationships were treated the same as any other under the law.

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court released its 5-4 decision, stating that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right and was guaranteed by the Due Process Clause and by the Fourteenth Amendment.

In the ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.

“It would misunderstand these men and women to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfilment for themselves.

He added: “Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilisation’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law.

“The Constitution grants them that right.”

LGBT+ rights organisations reflect on the legacy of the Supreme Court ruling that legalised same-sex marriage.

Five years on, LGBT+ people and organisations are reflecting on the leap forward that incredible decision signalled for LGBT+ people – while also recognising that full equality has not yet been achieved for all queer people.

Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty, the Tennessee plaintiffs in the historic case, said they are grateful that they no longer have to fight to be legally recognised as a couple or as parents of their children.

“Every family deserves to be respected and supported, and our country is a much better place today because the Supreme Court affirmed that fundamental principle in Obergefell,” the couple said in a statement.

“Five years after the Court held that Tennessee was legally required to recognise our marriage, it is overwhelming to look back on that day and imagine how much more precarious and insecure our lives and family would be now if the Court had not recognised our right to be treated equally,” they added.

same-sex marriage united states supreme court
Activists celebrate the Supreme Court’s historic ruling (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) executive director Imani Rupert-Gordon said the ruling was “about much more than simply winning the freedom to marry”.

“For the first time, the US Supreme Court recognised that LGBTQ people form families and enter into relationships that are worthy or protection and respect,” Rupert-Gordon said.

Especially for Black LGBTQ people, our struggle for freedom and equality is far from over.

“Obergefell and the decades of activism that preceded it forever changed the way that our society understands LGBTQ people and their families.

“Personally, being married to the love of my life is a privilege that I am thankful for daily. I’m indebted to the amazingly brave people that made it possible for everyone to marry the person they love.”

The NCLR’s legal director Shannon Minter said the decision showed the LGBT+ community could fight back against “injustice and inequality”.

“We need that reminder more than ever now, when our country is facing unprecedented crises that are exacerbating the devastating harms caused by anti-Black racism and economic inequality,” Minter said.

“On this historic anniversary, let us remember the power of our collective voice and our responsibility to confront and redress the impact of centuries of injustice. Especially for Black LGBTQ people, our struggle for freedom and equality is far from over.”

Full equality has not yet been achieved for the LGBT+ community.

Reflecting on the ruling, American Constitution Society (ACS) president Russ Feingold said marriage equality became the law of the land due to “years of agitation and well-crafted legal strategy”.

He continued: “And yet we know that members of the LGBTQ+ community still do not have equal rights under the law. This year’s Pride occurs at a time of renewed attention to the police violence so often perpetrated against trans people of colour and the wilful failure by our criminal justice system to pursue justice for Black and Brown members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, and too many other trans and non-binary people of colour have been killed just this year,” he added.

Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said the LGBT+ community has made “some truly remarkable progress” in the five years since the Supreme Court decision.

Same-sex couples can legally marry across our country, public support for equality continues to grow to unprecedented levels and LGBTQ workers are now undeniably protected from discrimination under federal law,” David said.

“But we also must acknowledge that LGBTQ people continue to face discriminatory attacks from anti-equality politicians, that there are no nationwide nondiscrimination protections in the public square and that we are living through an epidemic of violence that particularly targets Black transgender women.”

He said the LGBT+ community must harness the momentum of progress and ensure that it is felt by all, “no matter who you are or where you live.”

The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) director of LGBT+ and HIV project James Esseks said equal marriage has become “an increasingly uncontroversial part of everyday life” since it was legalised five years ago.

“That cultural acceptance of same-sex couples has laid a foundation for further gains in LGBTQ rights, like last week’s Supreme Court ruling that it’s unlawful to fire people simply for being LGBTQ.”

Barbara Simon, head of news and campaigns at GLAAD, told PinkNews that they will keep fighting to end discrimination and equality faced by LGBT+ people in the United States.

“Whether it’s the recent attack on the trans community’s access to health care, or allowing agencies to refuse LGBTQ couples from adopting a child, the Trump administration has continuously sought to strip protections from LGBTQ Americans, making many within our community more vulnerable than ever,” Simon said.

“Now, it is crucial that we continue to push Congress to pass the Equality Act as the next step in ensuring that LGBTQ Americans are protected from discrimination in many other areas of life.”

Scott McCoy, interim deputy legal director for LGBT+ rights and special litigation at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the United States “came closer to living up to its promise of equality under the law” five years ago.

“In his opinion for the majority, Justice Kennedy recognized that gay and lesbian people and their families are an important and valuable part of our society and that it was time finally for the law to acknowledge and fulfill this truth,” McCoy said.

Five years on, the message couldn’t be clearer: love always wins.

 

 

 

More: American Constitution Society, Human Rights Campaign, marriage equality, national center for lesbian rights, Obergefell v. Hodges, supreme court, United States

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