Amazing Anniversary: Marriage Equality Decision Celebrates First Year

This Sunday will mark the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which brought marriage equality to the states in 2015.

Writing for the 5-4 majority in that case, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy explained that all people have a right to the dignity that marriage bestows on couples.

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

Continued Kennedy, “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.”

These words represent a tremendous victory, not only for same-sex couples but also for civil rights and the legal principle of secularism. After all, the far right’s fierce objection to marriage equality is strongly rooted in its narrow interpretation of the Bible.

Given what was at stake, Americans United was heavily involved with this case. We filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in March 2015 in which we explained that marriage equality poses no threat to the religious freedom of those who oppose it.

“That some people have religious objections to others’ exercise of a fundamental right or entitlement to equal treatment under the law has never been thought a valid reason for wholly denying any recognition of the constitutional protection,” observed AU. “Moreover, many of the feared conflicts between religious liberty and recognition of same-sex couples’ right to marry are chimerical.”

During the oral argument in April, AU staffers and supporters also rallied outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

AU rallies outside the Supreme Court the day of the oral argument in the marriage equality case.

Just because the high court recognized marriage equality, however, doesn’t mean our work is done on this issue. Far from it. In the year since Obergefell, we’ve been very busy defending that victory.

Last July, we launched a project called Protect Thy Neighbor, which seeks to stop religion-based discrimination against LGBT persons and others. This includes making sure same-sex couples are not denied marriage licenses by government clerks.

As a result, we’ve been fighting in Congress and the state legislatures as well as in court protecting the right to marry. In court we’ve been active most notably in Alabama, where state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore told local probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

At the height of the rebellion in that state, as many as 44 of Alabama’s 67 counties defied a federal appeals court ruling and refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. So Americans United and its allies stepped in on behalf of four couples who wished to marry in the Yellowhammer State. Thanks to the work of AU and its allies, all four have since obtained licenses.

Let’s celebrate the Obergefell ruling – but let’s also remember that we still have a lot of work to do. You can help by signing up for AU’s action alerts, getting involved with an AU chapter or donating.