The petitioners from the States that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman include 14 same-sex couples. The petitioners claim the respondents, state officials responsible for enforcing the laws in question, violate the Fourteenth Amendment by denying them the right to marry or to have their marriages, lawfully performed in another States, given full recognition.
No State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The fundamental liberties protected by the Due Process Clause include most rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights and certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy.
The petitioner, James Obergefell, a plaintiff in the Ohio case, met John Arthur, fell in love with him and started a life together, establishing a lasting relation. When Arthur was diagnosed with a debilitating, progressive disease, they decided to commit to one another and to marry, they traveled from Ohio to Maryland, where same-sex marriage was legal. When Arthur died three months later, Ohio did not allow Obergefell to be listed as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. The Ohio statute required that they must remain strangers even in death. Obergefell brought suit to be shown as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate.
Does the Fourteenth Amendment require the States to license a marriage between same-sex couples?
Yes. The right to marry the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of an individual, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, same-sex couples may not be deprived of that right and liberty.
Justice Roberts, Scalia, Thomas
Justice Roberts: Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to this Court. The Constitution grants judges the power to say what the law is, but not what is should be. It is up to Congress to decide the issue. The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment, the right which has no basis in the Constitution or any precedents.
Justice Scalia: When the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, every State limited marriage to one man and one woman, and no one doubted the constitutionality of doing so. This Court has no basis for striking down a practice that is not expressly prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment’s text.
Justice Thomas: The majority’s decision requires States to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples largely based on a constitutional provision guaranteeing “due process.” However, the constitutional text of the Due Process Clause guarantees only whatever “process” is “due.” The majority’s treatment of the Due Process Clause as substantive rights is dangerous and could result in less democracy.
The Court’s precedents state that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy, which is protected by the Constitution. Protecting the right to marry also safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of child-rearing, procreation and education. By recognizing parents’ relationship, marriage allows children, whether biological or adopted “to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family.” Excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children will not know their families. Finally, the Court’s prior cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order.
The Nation has made marriage the basis for an expanding list of governmental rights, benefits and responsibilities throughout the history. The harms to same-sex couples from the denial of their right to marry are more than burdens the States might face in recognizing same-sex marriage.