On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated decision on samesex marriage. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples theright to marry.
This case, Obergefell v. Hodges, involved challenges to same-sex marriage bans from four states—Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky. Even though the Supreme Court’s decision involves these four states, the ruling affects same-sex marriage laws in every state.
The Supreme Court’s ruling means that samesex couples have the right to be married in their own states and to have their marriages recognized as valid in every other state.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is effective immediately, which means all states must start (or continue) issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the same terms as opposite-sex couples.
Legal Debate on Same-sex Marriage Up until two years ago, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages by solely defining “marriage” as the legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.
On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of DOMA, ruling that the law’s definition of “marriage” violated the U.S. Constitution. As a result of the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling, legally married same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits and protections under federal law as opposite-sex married couples.
At the time of the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling, the majority of states had laws that prohibited same-sex couples from getting married. Most states also refused to recognize same-sex marriages that were legally entered into in other jurisdictions.
Due to the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling, numerous lawsuits were filed across the country to challenge the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage. Courts reviewing these challenges overwhelming ruled that the state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.
As of the Supreme Court’s ruling, same-sex marriage was legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia. In the majority of these states (such as Florida, Wisconsin, Kansas and Virginia, for example) same-sex marriage was legalized by a court decision following the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling.
This Compliance Bulletin is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.