June 26th, 2015

Breaking down the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality for your class



Background of Obergefell v. Hodges
In the case Obergefell v. Hodges, plaintiff James Obergefell argued that the state of Ohio should recognize his marriage to his partner. Obergefell and his husband John Arthur had married in Maryland in 2013, but moved to Ohio where their marriage was not recognized. When Arthur contracted a terminal illness, the state of Ohio would not allow Obergefell to list himself as a surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate, prompting the lawsuit.

What does the ruling mean?
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of nationwide marriage equality. Justice Anthony Kennedy providing the critical fifth vote (called the “swing vote”) in the decision. The ruling will overturn the ban on same-sex marriage in 14 states, allowing same-sex couples to marry nationwide.

What did the opinion say?
Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, which said that the fact that same-sex couples want to get married “reveal[s] that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memory, joined by its bond,” Kennedy said.

Where was same-sex marriage legal before the ruling?
Previously, same-sex couples were able to marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The remaining 14 states had banned same-sex marriage.

Why did the Supreme Court take up the case?
The Supreme Court usually takes up cases for which there is a split in opinion between different courts. In this case, different courts had made opposing decisions about marriage equality in several different cases, leading the Supreme Court to get involved to resolve the issue.

Where can I find more teaching resources on this topic?
Look at our background timeline on the events that led up to the ruling as well as a lesson plan on how to think about how equal marriage relates to the Constitution. Also check out our list of LGBTQ youth resources for your students and an essay from a student about what it was like to start a Gay-Straight Alliance in his conservative community.

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