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Same-Sex Couples Have Right To Marry, Plaintiffs Celebrate

After years of legal limbo for same-sex couples in four states including Ohio and Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court has reversed an appeals court decision, deciding that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states.

Read the full decision here.

Lead plaintiff Jim Obergefell and his attorney Al Gerhardstein are in Washington D.C. Gerhardstein says this is huge. He described sitting in the courtroom and hearing the decision. "One of the most compelling pieces of this... was hearing the otherwise jaded attorneys crying."

In Cincinnati, attorney Jennifer Branch called the decision, "a great victory for equality and love." Plaintiff Kelly McCracken says, "I don't even have words to explain really how happy we are."

When attorneys presented their case in April 2015 there were two questions before the Court. Ohio and Tennessee wanted to know: "Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?" And Michigan and Kentucky wanted to know: "Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license same-sex couples to marry?"

Days before the decision NPR speculated as to what could happen:


Read the Ohio petitioners brief for James Obergefell v. Richard Hodges and Brittani Henry v. Richard Hodges here. It argued:

  • Ohio's recognition bans strip married same-sex spouses and their children of hundreds of legal and financial protections.
  • Ohio's refusal to recognize existing marriages of same-sex couples is subject to heightened scrutiny under the due process clause.
  • Ohio's recognition bans trigger heightened equal protection scrutiny because they discriminate based on sexual orientation and sex.

Read the Ohio respondents brief here. It argued:

  • Ohio has always followed the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
  • Ohioans twice voted to retain that definition.
  • The Sixth Circuit held that the Constitution leaves the question of same-sex marriage to democracy.

Kentucky's two cases:

  • Bourke, et al v. Beshear - four couples are suing for their out-of-state marriages to be recognized.
  • Love, et al v. Beshear - this case seeks the right for same-sex couples to marry in Kentucky.

The other cases before The U.S. Supreme Court:

  • Tanco, et al v. Haslam - four couples in Tennessee are suing for their out-of-state marriages to be recognized.
  • DeBoer, et al v. Snyder - seeks the right for same-sex couples to marry in Michigan.

Reaction from around the region:

Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr issued the following statement:

“Under the false banner of ‘marriage equality,’ the United State Supreme Court today redefined marriage by judicial fiat. In so doing, it has disregarded not only the clearly expressed will of the electorate in Ohio and other states, but also an understanding of marriage that was shared by virtually all cultures – secular as well as religious – until recently. “Every nation has laws limiting who and under what circumstances people can be married. This is because lawmakers have always understood that marriage does not exist just for the mutual satisfaction of the two people involved but for the betterment of society. Traditional marriage is the cradle of the family, the basic building block of society. As Pope Francis has reminded us, every child has a right to be raised by two parents, a father and a mother. Both parents are important, and they are not interchangeable. The sad reality that so many children are deprived of this right because of the crisis in traditional marriage does not make it any less important. It is deeply disappointing and worrisome that our courts do not understand this. “Although the decision is disappointing, it is undeniable that families headed by same-sex couples are growing in number and visibility. These families deserve everyone’s love, respect, compassion, sensitivity and, where appropriate, pastoral care from the Church.”

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine:

"The Attorney General’s Office has an obligation and duty to defend the constitutionality of Ohio laws, including constitutional amendments passed by Ohio voters. Ohio’s involvement in this case has been to defend the voter-passed amendment. While Ohio argued that the Supreme Court should let this issue ultimately be decided by the voters, the Court has now made its decision."

Congressman John Boehner (R-West Chester):

"All human beings are created equal by God and thus deserve to be treated with love, dignity and respect. I am, however, disappointed that the Supreme Court disregarded the democratically-enacted will of millions of Americans by forcing states to redefine the institution of marriage. My views are based on my upbringing and my faith. I believe that marriage is a sacred vow between one man and one woman, and I believe Americans should be able to live and work according to their beliefs."

U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio):

“The issue of marriage equality is one that divides people of principle, and I understand that. In 2013, I decided to support marriage equality after I came to understand this issue better in the context of my own family. I can't help but view today's Supreme Court decision through that same lens. And as a father, I welcome today's decision. As I have said before, I would have preferred for this issue to be resolved by the democratic process in the states because I think you build a more lasting consensus that way. Now the Court has reached its decision, I hope we can move past the division and polarization the issue has caused.”

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio):

“Today the Supreme Court has finally put our nation on the right side of history. Marriage equality is now the law of the land across our country, including in Ohio, and states should immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, who have waited too long already. “This decision comes in no small part because of the courage of Ohioan Jim Obergefell, and all those who have fought for marriage equality. Anyone who has heard Jim tell his story can’t fail to be moved. It’s long past time that our laws recognized his marriage and all other same-sex marriages. “While today we celebrate this momentous step forward for equality, we know our work is not yet finished. We must continue fighting discrimination against LGBT Americans and all other communities. The arc of history is bending a little further toward justice today, but our work to create a more perfect union, with equality and justice for all, continues.”

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear:

“The fractured laws across the country concerning same-sex marriage had created an unsustainable and unbalanced legal environment, wherein citizens were treated differently depending on the state in which they resided. That situation was unfair, no matter which side of the debate you may support. Kentuckians, and indeed all Americans, deserved a final determination of what the law in this country would be, and that is the reason we pursued an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Today’s opinion finally provides that clarity. All Cabinets of the executive branch have been directed to immediately alter any policies necessary to implement the decision from the Supreme Court. Effective today, Kentucky will recognize as valid all same-sex marriages performed in other states and in Kentucky. I have instructed the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives to provide revised marriage license forms to our county clerks for immediate use, beginning today. We will report additional expected policy changes in the coming days.”

The head of an Ohio religious group that spearheaded the state’s 2004 gay marriage ban says Friday’s Supreme Court ruling will lead to persecution of those who oppose same-sex unions.

Phil Burress is president of Citizens for Community Values, based outside Cincinnati.  He says the high court justices have superseded the will of the American people. ‘It’s a travesty. You have nine unelected people who have legislated from the bench.  They have no business interfering in state’s rights. This is something that the people need to decide, not the courts.”

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.