US Gay Marriage Laws: US Supreme Court Rules Same-sex Marriages a Constitutional Right

June 26, 2015, is now a remarkable day for gay persons all over the world. On this day, a divided US Supreme Court issued a landmark opinion that legalized gay marriages in all American states.

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After this ruling, the U.S became the most populous country to legalize same-sex marriages. The country also became the 21st nation to guarantee gay marriages the same rights as heterosexual marriages.

In a 5-4 majority decision, the court ruled that state bans and denial of marriage licenses to gay couples violated U.S. supreme law. The judges ruled that the denials contravened the Due Process and the Equal Protection clauses contained in the Fourteenth Amendment of the country's constitution.

US Gay Marriage Laws before Obergefell

Before the Supreme Court’s ruling, U.S. gay marriage laws were a complicated mesh of differing state laws and federal court decisions. While some states had passed legislation to allow same-sex marriages, others had banned them. Other states had been forced to accept the unions by state court decisions and popular referendums. The situation generated many legal battles with many activists seeking federal courts interpretations. The courts issued contradicting rulings with some courts upholding the state bans and others striking them down.

The US gay marriage fight for legal recognition started in the 1970's. In 1993, same-sex marriages received a significant boost. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state's prohibition of gay marriage was unconstitutional. Continued activism and legal battles won over many Americans. The support culminated in a landmark ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court that legalized gay marriages in the state.

Massachusetts ratified the court's decision on May 17, 2004. The state became the first U.S state to legalize gay marriages. Eight years later, Washington, Maine, and Maryland legalized gay marriages via popular referendum.

With ongoing legal battles, gay marriage remained illegal in 14 states. The states were Georgia, Michigan, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and most of Missouri.

The confusion on U.S gay marriages continued. One county would issue licenses only for another county in the same state to prohibit them. One state would recognize gay marriages only for other jurisdictions to call them “purported marriages." The legal battles intensified. The Supreme Court meanwhile refused to hear appeal cases on the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of state recognitions and state prohibitions.

The court changed its mind on January 16, 2015. It agreed to rule on whether states could ban or refuse to recognize same-sex marriages licensed in other states. The court started listening to arguments in four consolidated cases, involving Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky. On June 26, 2015, the Court decided the cases under the heading of Obergefell.

Obergefell Aftermath

The legal situation is now clear. Same-sex marriages are constitutional in all U.S. states. Until gay marriage opponents receive an unlikely court win, gay couples can wed and live like their heterosexual counterparts. They can get marriage certificates and death certificates that recognize their married status. Meanwhile gay pride marches and celebrations continue in different cities all over the world. Many U.S. same-sex couples are also formalizing their unions while some await some word from their states.