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Same-sex couples gain equal right to marry

June 26, 2015 at 6:45 PM EDT
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down all same-sex marriage bans in the country, thus legalizing marriage for all gay couples in the United States. Political director Lisa Desjardins reports from the steps of the high court, then Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan to take a deeper look at the ruling.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Today’s decision on marriage sent waves of reaction across the country, beginning with a large crowd gathered on the Supreme Court steps.

Political director Lisa Desjardins takes us there.

LISA DESJARDINS: This is the decision from a very personal view, the view of Tom Fulton and Robert Westover, first hearing word.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

LISA DESJARDINS: Then getting confirmation that the Supreme Court had upheld their 13-year marriage.

TOM FULTON, Husband of Robert Westover: It’s just very, very exciting. And…

ROBERT WESTOVER, Husband of Tom Fulton: We feel like it’s just a surreal moment. It’s hard to put it into words. I mean, 10 minutes ago, we were second-class citizens. And now we’re equal in the eyes of this nation, this entire nation.

LISA DESJARDINS: The crowd was largely supporters of same-sex marriage. But the decision was also personal for opponents here, clashing with their faith and values. That included these Nebraskans on a Catholic mission.

MONICA REESON, Opponent of Gay Marriage: I’m against gay marriage. I am disappointed this happened. I believe marriage is between one man and one woman. And I think this will have a detrimental effect to society, and families and everything that we know.

LISA DESJARDINS: All those gathered, no matter the side they took, were looking to the future and what this ruling will mean for America.

ROBERT WESTOVER: Our lives have changed forever, and not only have our lives changed forever, but these young gay folks, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual folks coming up, they are all going to now know what it’s like to be full and inclusive citizens.

LISA DESJARDINS: As same-sex supporters celebrate, some opponents are now looking away from the court toward a possible constitutional amendment to try and overrule today’s decision.

Lisa Desjardins, PBS NewsHour.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We go inside the courtroom now. And our guide, as always, is Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal.”

So, how did we get to this 5-4 decision?

MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: OK, Hari, first, I would like to say, if people, our listeners and viewers, are really interested, they should read the decisions. They’re easy to read. They’re up on the court’s Web site. And I think people will enjoy reading them.

I look at Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in basically three parts. First, he acknowledged that the tradition of marriage has been between a man and a woman for a millennia. But he said that the nation’s understanding of marriage has changed, as new generations embrace the development of freedom.

Then he moved to marriage is a fundamental right of the Constitution. And he said there are basically four principles that show why it’s a fundamental right and where they apply with equal force to same-sex couples.

First, he said, inherent in the right to marry is the right to personal choice. Decisions about marriage are among the most important, most intimate that an individual can make, regardless of sexual orientation. The right to marriage also includes the right to intimate associations. Back in 2003, the court struck down state anti-sodomy laws, saying that gays and lesbians had a right to enjoy intimate associations.

The right to marriage protects families and children. It gives them predictability, respectability, stability. Hundreds of thousands of children, Justice Kennedy said, are being raised by gay couples and feel, if their parents want marriage, that their family units are somehow lesser than those of opposite-sex couples.

And finally, he said, marriage is the keystone to our social order. It comes with benefits and obligations that these couples want. He moved then to the Constitution. The right to marry, the fundamental right is protected by the liberty and equal protection guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. State bans on same-sex treat gay couples unequally. And the states have offered no sufficient justification for that unequal treatment.

Finally, the Constitution’s fundamental right to marry includes gay couples.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And there’s a section from the majority opinion I want to read here.

It says: “It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. 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.”

And he also — part of his — he actually quoted sort of the decision from 12 years ago as well.

MARCIA COYLE: Yes, he did.

In fact, with Justice Kennedy in particular, dignity and liberty are sort of essential to his jurisprudence. They marked his prior rulings involving gay and lesbian couples, three prior decisions that he wrote. And that’s what he was really relying on here, the dignity that marriage confers.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And there were also four dissents. And that doesn’t happen very often, but the four that didn’t vote for this also individually wrote theirs.

I want to read something from Scalia’s: “This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied, as it is today, by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the people of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the revolution of 1776, the freedom to govern themselves.”

MARCIA COYLE: The sort of unifying theme through all four separate dissents was that this is a decision that belongs in the democratic process, not to be made by the courts.

And Justice Kennedy did address that. Also, the dissents also said that the majority opinion is cutting off a debate that should continue within the American public. Justice Kennedy responded first by saying, this is not a new debate. The nation has been debating this for at least 40 years. There have been countless studies of gay couples’ marriages, court cases, court decisions.

And he also said, we’re talking about a fundamental right, and we don’t leave to the electorate or to the democratic process the decisions about fundamental rights under the Constitution.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And, finally, very briefly, what was it like in the courtroom?

MARCIA COYLE: No one really expected the decision today.

The court sort of — it’s not even — I can’t call it a tradition, but it has, in past practice, saved — the biggest decisions have come out on the final day, which is going to be Monday.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

MARCIA COYLE: But as soon as Justice Kennedy, with — Chief Justice Roberts announced that Justice Kennedy would have the first opinion, we knew that it was probably going to be same-sex marriage. It was an emotional moment.

Many of the lawyers in the Supreme Court bar who were sitting there had worked on these cases. They saw where Justice Kennedy was heading. There was tears. After the decision was announced, there were hugs and handshakes.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, thank you, as always, Marcia Coyle.

MARCIA COYLE: My pleasure, Hari.

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