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Justice like a thunderbolt

Same-sex marriage in US

By Reuters, New York Times News Service and The Times, London in Washington
  • Published 27.06.15
News interns run out with the US Supreme Court ruling legalising same-sex marriage in all 50 states. (AFP) 

Washington, June 26: The US Supreme Court ruled today that the Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry, handing a historic triumph to the American gay rights movement.

The court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean that states cannot ban same-sex marriages.

With the landmark ruling, gay marriage becomes legal in all 50 US states. The decision made same-sex marriage a reality in the 15 states that had continued to ban it.

The ruling ends two decades of legal wrangling and addresses one of the running sores of America's culture wars.

President Barack Obama, appearing in the White House Rose Garden, hailed the ruling as a milestone in American justice that arrived "like a thunderbolt".

"This ruling is a victory for America," said Obama, the first sitting President to support gay marriage. "This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free."

However, it quickly became clear that, whatever the practicalities of the verdict in terms of allowing weddings, the issue was not yet over as a political football.

Jeb Bush, the leading Republican contender for President, argued that the decision should have been left to individual states, 36 of which had already legalised same-sex unions. "Guided by my faith, I believe in traditional marriage," he said.

The decision, which split the court's conservative and liberal wings, was written by its swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has become one of the most powerful jurists in American history.

Kennedy said the hope of gay people intending to marry "is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilisation's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right....

"Without the recognition, stability and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser."

Kennedy said gay and lesbian couples had a fundamental right to marry. "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family," he wrote. "In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were."

The decision, which was the culmination of decades of litigation and activism, set off celebrations across the country and the first same-sex marriages in several states. It came against the backdrop of fast-moving changes in public opinion, with polls indicating that most Americans now approve of the unions.

The court's four more liberal justices joined Kennedy's majority opinion. Each member of the court's conservative wing filed a separate dissent, in tones ranging from resigned dismay to bitter scorn.

Appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1988, Kennedy has now authored all four of the court's major gay rights rulings, with the first in 1996.

In dissent, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the Constitution had nothing to say on the subject of same-sex marriage.

"If you are among the many Americans - of whatever sexual orientation - who favour expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision," Roberts wrote. "Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it."

In a second dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia mocked the soaring language of Kennedy.

"The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic," Scalia wrote of his colleague's work. "Of course, the opinion's showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent."

Scalia said the decision shows the court is a "threat to American democracy". The ruling "says that my ruler and the ruler of 320 million Americans coast to coast is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court".

As Kennedy finished announcing his opinion from the bench on Friday, several lawyers seated in the bar section of the court's gallery wiped away tears while others grinned and exchanged embraces.

<>Outside the Supreme Court, the police allowed hundreds of people waving rainbow flags and holding signs to advance onto the court plaza as those present for the decision streamed down the steps.

Tim Cook, the gay chief executive of Apple, joined the celebrations on Twitter. "Today marks a victory for equality, perseverance, and love," he wrote.

The court's ruling does not take effect immediately, leaving roughly three weeks for procedural issues to be resolved, but some state officials moved anyway to recognise the new law of the land.

A county clerk in Texas -one of the states that still had a ban in place - was issuing marriage licences to gay couples within an hour.