Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) – Case Summary

The main issue of contention in this particular case was the fundamental right to marry as enshrined in the Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Due Protection Clause. This liberty extends to same-sex couples that were particularly lobbying against state legislation-based restrictions upheld by states such as Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky which only recognize unions between a man and a woman. This prompted the subsequent filing of lawsuits challenging laws in the aforementioned jurisdictions, ultimately culminating in the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision that resulted in the formal legalization of same-sex marriages on a federal level.

            The Obergefell v. Hodges presented a number of key legal questions for evaluation solely based on the actual constitutionality of outlawing same-sex marriages in a number of jurisdictions in the United States. Chief among these questions was whether the definition of marriage only recognizing union between a man and a woman was constitutional or in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment. The choice to uphold this perspective was informed by the 1971 Baker v. Nelson Supreme Court case which acknowledged marriage as a union between a  man and a woman; subsequently invalidating the legitimacy of same-sex marriages.

            The 5-4 decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges was that legal restrictions in Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky were unconstitutional and an affront on the Fourteenth Amendment. This resulted in the formal legalization of same-sex marriages on a federal level as a guarantee based on legal provisions within the Fourteenth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause.  All states with the United States and its insular territories were now required to acknowledge same-sex marriages and their protection under provisions outlined in the US Constitution,

            The rationale of the court’s decision was based on the rationale that it was prudent for the United States to reject legal provisions that only recognized marriage as a union between a man and a woman since it was unconstitutional.  In particular, the majority opinion by Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader, Stephen Brever, and Sonia Sotomayor underscored that outlawing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional since it does not uphold the provision of liberty to all. The decision to marry was, therefore, a personal choice that had to be protected since it was deeply steeped in individual autonomy.

            Dissenting opinions were expressed by Justices Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. The rationale behind this dissent was the idea that the verdict would set a dangerous precedent where the substantive due process clause would be misused. Furthermore, dissenting voices also argued that the ban on same-sex marriages did not infringe upon the right privacy while further arguing that its main objective was promoting successful child rearing.

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