The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage – nationwide. The 5-4 ruling effectively removed all remaining state bans on same-sex marriage in the United States of America.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.”
“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.”
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
To the surprise of no one, many are predictably complaining that this decision was a direct sleight against states’ rights, effectively driving the United States towards a state of tyranny and one government rule. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m going to tell you why those people are wrong.
First of all, to be fully clear, I fully support small government – particularly in the respect that any government’s ability to place limitations on its citizens should be restricted. We are a country littered with unnecessary laws. Any laws in effect should serve one of two purposes: Protection from measurable harm, or restriction from causing measurable harm. There are many laws currently in effect that serve neither of those purposes, and in my opinion are thus unnecessary. Nothing is protected, and nothing is gained, by their existence. Bans on same-sex marriages indisputably meet that criteria.
Secondly, a state ban on same-sex marriages effectively dictates the ways in which people in legal relationships are able to behave in said relationships. Bans on illegal relationships – such as in the cases of adults and minors or humans and goats – would realistically carry a ban on marriages between people in those relationships. However, homosexuality is not illegal, which means that the ban was not on the relationships people are permitted to have, but the extent to which people are allowed to have them. If the relationship is not illegal, then no restrictions should be placed on the progression of that relationship. Any such ban serves as an extremely dangerous precedent for others in the state, giving the government the power to add more restrictions on more people. Could they limit the ability to divorce? I don’t see why not, since they were permitted dictation on obtaining marriages they could certainly dictate the dissolution of marriages.
And finally, states with same-sex marriage bans were not acknowledging legal marriages that occurred in states without such bans. This is the biggest reason that the Supreme Court had to get involved, as two states – exercising their individual state rights – were directly at odds with one another and their citizens. It was in the interest of every citizen, regardless of their sexuality or marital status, for a determination to be made in order to maintain some form of seamless continuity. It is appropriate for the federal government to issue a decision on a matter when the same person or people are treated differently from a civil rights perspective across different borders within the same country. The Full Faith and Credit Clause – Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution – provides that states must recognize legislative acts, public records, and judicial decisions of the other states in the U.S. While it could be argued that this clause already ensures equal treatment across state lines, it is not enforced in the ways some people think.
The strongest claim regarding the Full Faith and Credit Clause in terms of having a same-sex marriage recognized comes from matters involving court judgments. When court judgments are not involved – which is often the case – the mere act of one state marrying a couple has never been entitled to the kind of mandatory legal enforcement that judgments receive. Claims on a deceased spouse’s estate and health insurance and retirement benefits for public employees were more difficult to obtain in states that did not recognize a legally obtained same-sex marriage from another state. Full Faith and Credit has long enacted “public policy exceptions,” which protect states from being forced to substitute another state’s statute for their own. These exceptions apply to laws but seldom apply to court judgments.
State governments have the right to create individual state laws as long as such laws do not directly conflict with every United States citizen’s constitutional rights. The right to marry is a civil right with very clear, and previously established, constitutional context.
The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, reads: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
This standard was first applied to marriage in 1967 when the United States Supreme Court struck down a Virginia law banning interracial marriage. “To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law,” Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote. “The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”
So if you want state governments to have the right to dictate how you live, then by all means, go right ahead. I’m personally glad that one huge step was taken to limit the ways in which my government – be it federal or state – can determine the ways in which I live in comparison to other people under the same roof.
Liz Finnegan is a soulless ginger with no political leanings. Pun enthusiast. Self-proclaimed “World’s Okayest Person.” Retro gaming contributor for The Escapist.
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