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The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest. The Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause are connected in a profound way. 374, where the Court invalidated a law barring fathers delinquent on child-support payments from marrying. The challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and they abridge central precepts of equality.
Rights implicit in liberty and rights secured by equal protection may rest on different precepts and are not always co-extensive, yet each may be instructive as to the meaning and reach of the other. Indeed, recognizing that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged, this Court has invoked equal protection principles to invalidate laws imposing sex-based inequality on marriage, see, , 539 U. The marriage laws at issue are in essence unequal: Same-sex couples are denied benefits afforded opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right. (4) The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. (5) There may be an initial inclination to await further legislation, litigation, and debate, but referenda, legislative debates, and grassroots campaigns; studies and other writings; and extensive litigation in state and federal courts have led to an enhanced understanding of the issue.
Well into the 20th century, many States condemned same-sex intimacy as immoral, and homosexuality was treated as an illness. History and tradition guide and discipline the inquiry but do not set its outer boundaries.
Later in the century, cultural and political developments allowed same-sex couples to lead more open and public lives. (1) The fundamental liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed. 810, a one-line summary decision issued in 1972, holding that the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage did not present a substantial federal question. (2) Four principles and traditions demonstrate that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.
Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.
This dynamic can be seen in the Nation’s experience with gay and lesbian rights. Courts must exercise reasoned judgment in identifying interests of the person so fundamental that the State must accord them its respect.
I These cases come from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, States that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations. This view long has been held—and continues to be held—in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.
The petitioners, 14 same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners are deceased, filed suits in Federal District Courts in their home States, claiming that respondent state officials violate the Fourteenth Amendment by denying them the right to marry or to have marriages lawfully performed in another State given full recognition. (1) The history of marriage as a union between two persons of the opposite sex marks the beginning of these cases.
Each District Court ruled in petitioners’ favor, but the Sixth Circuit consolidated the cases and reversed. (a) Before turning to the governing principles and precedents, it is appropriate to note the history of the subject now before the Court. To the respondents, it would demean a timeless institution if marriage were extended to same-sex couples. (2) The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change.
The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
See Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
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Precedent protects the right of a married couple not to procreate, so the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate. There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle, yet same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage and are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would find intolerable.