June 26, 2015 is a date that will go down in history. On that day, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples nationwide have the right to marriage, and that states could no longer ban same-sex marriages. This ruling is a victory for the LGBTQ community, and it’s been won after 40 years of court battles and changes to state laws.
Now that the initial dust has settled, let’s take a moment to look back on the history of this struggle for equal rights and appreciate how far we have come.
The Beginning of the Journey
The legal story of freedom to marry begins in the early 1970s, when two gay men – Richard Baker and James Michael McConnell – had their marriage request denied based on sexual orientation. They filed a discrimination lawsuit, arguing that the decision violated several constitutional rights. Their suit was dismissed by a trial court, and though the couple appealed the ruling, they were denied a marriage license and the case did not go further.
By refusing to hear Baker v. Nelson, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling that states could restrict marriages. This precedent survived for decades until voters began recognizing marriage as a universal right.
Obergefell v. Hodges
In 2015, the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, reached the nation’s highest court. The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that failure to recognize same-sex marriage violated the fundamental 14th Amendment rights of couples. By the time the U.S. Supreme Court made this ruling, 37 states – including New Mexico — already had laws in place allowing same-sex civil unions.
In writing about the decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the fundamental right to marry is a liberty that may no longer be denied to same-sex couples. The federal ruling invalidates all laws in the remaining 13 states that prohibited civil marriage, and it mandates that every state must legally recognize same-sex marriages that have taken place outside its borders.
Marriage Equality in the Future
The LGBTQ community and supporters joyously celebrated this victory for civil rights with gay pride parades, immediate weddings and a rainbow of Facebook profile pictures.
However, couples living in cities and states with bans in place have met with resistance as the legal implications of the decision are debated and the new regulations are determined. There will be a period of transition for everyone involved. But with the Supreme Court ruling in place, the right to marry freely has been finally secured after 40 years of struggle – giving hope for the future of many other important LGBTQ causes.