On Friday, June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court made history in Obergefell v. Hodges by ruling that the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of same-sex couples to become legally married everywhere in the country.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court described the battle for the rights and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people that has spanned more than 60 years in the United States. The decision struck down restrictions on same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee that a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court upheld last year. It also validated a series of lower court opinions that recognized the constitutional rights of same-sex couples to marry across most of the nation since 2012.
The decision comprehensively reviewed the history of evolving LGBT rights and identity in the 20th century, the historical enlargement by the Court of marriage rights to other formerly excluded populations of people, and the living, adaptable nature of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Its release was accompanied by widespread celebration, including the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC singing the National Anthem just outside the Supreme Court steps.
As the Court wrote, “The States have contributed to the fundamental character of the marriage right by placing that institution at the center of so many facets of the legal and social order. There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle.”
President Obama issued a statement late this morning in which he said, in part: “Progress on this journey often comes in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, compelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”
Lieff Cabraser’s Elizabeth Cabraser commented on the decision:
Today a courageous majority of our Supreme Court reaffirmed the fundamental aspiration of our nation toward liberty and justice for all. As a proud member of the LGBT community, I thank the plaintiffs and all who have fought in our courts for marriage equality. All Americans have won today, regardless of their views on this issue, because the liberty of all of us is more secure, and the dignity of each of us under our Constitution has again been acknowledged.
Lieff Cabraser has long taken an active role in support of marriage equality in California and nationwide, providing pro bono assistance to lawyers representing same-sex couples and since 2008 representing the firm’s amici clients challenging marriage bans. We hold a core belief in the Constitution’s promise of liberty and equality for all. Earlier this year, we also joined 378 businesses to ask the United States Supreme Court to strike down state law bans on same-sex marriage in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.
Kelly Dermody, San Francisco Managing Partner and Chair of Lieff Cabraser’s Employment Law practice group, noted:
Today we celebrate justice, fairness, and dignity for all. In soaring and at times poetic language, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses. As a result, marriages between same-sex couples are now legal across the country. Lieff Cabraser applauds all of those who have fought so hard for the civil rights (including same-sex marriage rights) of LGBT people over the past 50-plus years. We also salute our many amici clients who we have represented in various marriage cases over the past 11 years. In a very personal way, this is their victory and that of the other brave clients who brought the marriage ban challenges. Lieff Cabraser is proud to stand with our clients, with the entire LGBT community, and with all of those who seek human rights and dignity for all people. Justice Kennedy may have said it best when he concluded today’s majority opinion:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”