On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court held, in a 5-4 decision, that the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution requires all 50 states to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed in a different state.
This Supreme Court case actually involved suits from four different states: Michigan (DeBoer v. Snyder, Governor of Michigan), Kentucky (Bourke v. Beshear, Governor of Kentucky), Ohio (Obergefell v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health) and Tennessee (Tanco v. Haslam, Governor of Tennessee). However, Obergefell v. Hodges is the one that identifies the Supreme Court case.
In total, 14 same-sex couples and two men, whose same-sex partners were deceased, filed suits in Federal District Courts in their respective home states claiming that state officials had violated their 14th Amendment rights by denying them the right to marry or by refusing to recognize marriages legally performed in other states. In each District Court, the petitioners received a favorable ruling. However, upon appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court of the United States consolidated the cases and reversed the ruling of the District Courts, which precipitated the Supreme Court’s agreement to hear the case.
The Reasoning of the Court
In the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court pointed in particular to four principles and traditions that demonstrate both the existence of a fundamental right to marriage under the Constitution and its application with equal force to same-sex couples. First, the Court argued the right to personal choice when it comes to marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy, an autonomy that exists regardless of one’s sexual orientation.
Second, because the fundamental right to marry supports a two-person union unlike any other in terms of its importance to committed individuals. The Court held that this right confers and protects an intimate association that equally extends to same-sex couples.
Third, the right to marry safeguards children and families and benefits from other rights such as childbearing, procreation and education. However, because married couples can choose not to procreate or can be prevented from doing so due to other physical difficulties, the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate and, thereby, cannot be used as a reason to exclude same-sex couples from marriage. Further, the Court held that denying children of same-sex couples the recognition, stability and predictability of marriage can stigmatize them and cause them to feel their family is less.
Finally, the decision stated that both Supreme Court cases and the traditions of the United States establish the fundamental role marriage plays in the country. Marriage, in fact, is at the center of many aspects of the legal and social order. When applied to married couples, there can be no distinction made between same-sex and opposite-sex couples in the enjoyment and exercise of this central national institution.
The Reaction of the U.S. Bishops
President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville issued a statement on the same day the Court’s decision was announced. The full statement can be found at the USCCB website (www.usccb.org). In his remarks, Archbishop Kurtz noted that the nature of the human person and marriage are unchanged regardless of a decision by the Supreme Court or any court. He went on to say that it “is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.” He reaffirmed the commitment of Catholic bishops to “follow our Lord” and continue to teach and to act according to the truth that marriage has been from the beginning and continues to be “the lifelong union of one man and one woman.”
Later, in a follow-up interview with Our Sunday Visitor on June 29, 2015, Archbishop Kurtz stressed the Church’s view of marriage as a sacrament, that is, “an efficacious sign of and participation in the very mystery of Christ and the Church…and sexual difference is essential.” At the same time, he also acknowledged that the Church has “perhaps not done enough to teach the beauty of marriage and the purpose and inherent design of family life.”
For more resources and/or to see what other bishops across the United States have said about the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, visit the USCCB website www.marriageuniqueforareason.org.
The Impact on Religious Liberty
The decision to legalize same-sex marriage might very well have significant consequences for religious liberty. Justice Kennedy did attempt to assuage any concern in the majority opinion by citing the First Amendment’s protection of religious organizations and persons. However, in his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts questioned what might happen when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may conflict with the right to same-sex marriage (for example, a religious adoption agency declining to place a child with same-sex couples). He concluded that “people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority (opinion) today.”
Archbishop Kurtz suggested in his interview that the Church “will face greater pressure now to mute our voices… [as] the freedom to run our ministries and participate in the public square while holding to the teachings of Jesus will likely be challenged.” He went on to note that “new legal requirements could threaten the life and work of the Church as well as other religious institutions and individuals of faith.”
DID YOU KNOW?
The 14th Amendment was ratified on July 9, 1868, during the Reconstruction era. Its overall goal was to safeguard the Civil Rights Act of 1866 which ensured that all citizens be given “full and equal benefit of all laws.”
Four principles were asserted in the Amendment:
- State and federal citizenship for all persons regardless of race, those born or naturalized in the United States, was reaffirmed.
- No state would be allowed to abridge the “privileges and immunities” of citizens.
- No person was allowed to be deprived of life, liberty or property without “due process of law.”
- No person could be denied “equal protection of the laws.”
Source: Martin Kelly http://americanhistory.about.com/od/usconstitution/a/14th-Amendment-Summary.htm
HOW THE JUSTICES VOTED
The Majority Opinion:
Justice Anthony Kennedy (Roman Catholic)
Justice Soni Sotomayor (Roman Catholic)
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Jewish)
Justice Elena Kagan (Jewish)
Justice Stephen Breyer (Jewish)
The Dissenting Justices:
Chief Justice John Roberts (Roman Catholic)
Justice Antonin Scalia (Roman Catholic)
Justice Clarence Thomas (Roman Catholic)
Justice Samuel Alito (Roman Catholic)
FROM THE MAJORITY OPINION…
“The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time.”
“The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era. Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes en- acted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.”
FROM THE DISSENT OF…
Chief Justice Roberts:
“…this Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be.”
“Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law.”
“The majority may be right that the ‘history of marriage is one of both continuity and change,’ but the core meaning of marriage has endured.”
“…it is not of special importance to me what the law says about marriage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.”
“Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect. Along the way, it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government.”
“This understanding of marriage, which focuses almost entirely on the happiness of persons who choose to marry, is shared by many people today, but it is not the traditional one. For millennia, marriage was inextricably linked to the one thing that only an opposite-sex couple can do: procreate.”
“If this traditional understanding of the purpose of marriage does not ring true to all ears today, that is probably because the tie between marriage and procreation has frayed.”
HOW TO RESPOND?
In his June 29, 2015 interview with Our Sunday Visitor, USCCB President Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz offered this advice…
- Be a good witness. Treat everyone with respect and dignity. Love everyone just as Christ has loved you. Be a joyful witness to the truths Christ has revealed and the Church has taught.
- Speak the truth with love.
- Live as you believe. Shape your life according to the truth and advocate for the recognition of marriage as the faithful union of one man and one woman.
AND THE CATECHISM SAYS…
The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the topic of homosexuality in only four of its 2865 paragraphs. Here are the highlights:
- Tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” as they are contrary to the natural law, close the sexual act to the gift of life, and do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. “Under no circumstances can they be approved.” 2357
- Though the homosexual inclination is objectively disordered, homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” 2358
- “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” 2359
DID YOU KNOW?
Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, same-sex marriage was legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. However, in 19 of the 36 states, same-sex marriage only became legal after federal courts struck down laws or state constitutional amendments banning same-sex unions in 2014.
WHERE IN THE WORLD?
The United States has now taken its place among 20 other countries that allow same-sex couples to marry in all of their jurisdictions.
The Netherlands (2000)
South Africa (2006)
New Zealand (2013)
England and Wales (2013)