The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 landmark decision Friday in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, was a reflection of a monumental shift in attitudes that has taken place in the United States in the last few years.
The ruling, which arguably could be the most significant since Roe v. Wade, also was the next logical step for the high court, which in October refused to hear the appeals from five states looking to prohibit gay marriage.
According to the Pew Research Center, a little more than a decade ago only about one-third of Americans approved of same-sex marriage, with 57 percent opposed. Earlier this month a poll showed those numbers virtually reversed, with 57 percent accepting gay and lesbian unions.
But the court’s split decision also reflects that there is still a large segment of the population that associates marriage with a religious rite, and as such is hesitant to accept any change in the concept that a marriage should be between one man and one woman.
In essence the court majority set aside that argument. Viewing marriage only as a civil institution, not a religious one, it focused on two questions:
Does the 14th Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
Does the 14th Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed in another state?
“They (same-sex couples) ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often casts the swing vote in a sharply divided court. “The Constitution grants them that right.”
Because the right of marriage grants married couples hundreds of benefits that unmarried couples do not have — benefits such as lower taxes, property inheritance, hospital visitation, immigration and child custody, to name a few — to deny same-sex couples the right to marry would be to abridge the privileges of one segment of society.
Most people can support the concept that all residents of the United States should be treated equally, and the court’s decision moved the nation closer to that ideal.
But those who view marriage as a rite, not a right, believe the court erred.
“Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. for the minority. “Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”
“This landmark decision had deep biblical, historical and constitutional roots, and unfortunately, our justices chose to redefine marriage for the entire nation, ignoring other constitutional rights and opening the door to a dangerous infringement on religious liberties,” said Berks County resident Samuel E. Rohrer, who serves as the president of the American Pastors Network.
But the decision in no way impacts the religious rites of marriage, which vary from one sect to another. No church will be required to perform a marriage that does not meet with the tenets of that religion.
That is as it should be.
Reading Eagle, Pennsylvania