Champions of same-sex marriage were jubilant after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, a decision that strikes down bans in 14 states and removes any legal clouds over gays and lesbians who have married their partners in the Carolinas.
The ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration. But some officials in states with bans struck down might decide there is little risk in issuing licenses.
“For LGBT families in North Carolina, this historic ruling means their marriages are fully secure and have been affirmed by the highest court in the land,” said the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “Through this landmark decision, the Court has signaled that policies that treat LGBT people as second-class citizens do not fulfill the American promise of equal protection under the law and cannot stand.”
Cathy Fry, who married Joanne Marinaro in Charlotte late last year, said she was thrilled. “I am so glad to be living in this historical day for America,” she said. “Most importantly, Joanne and I and all other married couples will have our marriage recognized no matter where we go in America.”
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Fry said her daughter and her son were also celebrating. “It’s gonna be something to talk to our grandkids about,” she said.
Meanwhile, Bishop Peter Jugis of the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, echoed the reaction of many conservative Christians.
“The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is deeply disappointing,” he said. “However, it does not change the beauty of the Church’s teaching on marriage as the permanent and exclusively faithful union of one man and one woman, for the good of the spouses and for the procreation and education of children. Sexual difference, male and female, is essential for marriage and children.”
North Carolina’s Franklin Graham, another outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage, said in a statement: “With all due respect to the court, it did not define marriage, and therefore is not entitled to re-define it. Long before our government came into existence, marriage was created by the One who created man and woman – Almighty God – and His decisions are not subject to review or revision by any man-made court.”
Saluting the court was the United Christ of Christ, a denomination that played a role in a court striking down North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage last October.
“In the United Church of Christ, we believe couples should be able to enjoy all the rites and blessings their faith traditions have to offer,” said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC executive for health and wholeness advocacy, whose own marriage is now legal in Ohio, which had its ban struck down Friday. “We’ll be ready to perform those rites and blessings, including the solemnizing of legal marriages just as soon as couples can get their licenses not only here in Ohio, but in our open and affirming churches across the country.”
Conservatives also are looking ahead, to more litigation and court cases.
“Now the battlefield shifts to religious freedom,” said Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews. “Will the progressive, totalitarian and intolerant left weaponize the government and attempt to force or compel people to affirm same-sex behavior and relationships? Or will they respect the freedom of conscience guaranteed by the Constitution?”
Since the federal court rulings last fall, the N.C. General Assembly adopted a law that allows magistrates to refuse to perform gay marriages if it violated their religious beliefs – a change that was adopted despite a veto from Gov. Pat McCrory.
The ruling has no effect on that law, though critics of it expect a legal challenge.
N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Democrat from Charlotte, expressed his thoughts in a tweet from his account. “Btw, there’s no way this ruling is good for SB2. Start the clock,” the tweet states, referring to Senate Bill 2, the North Carolina law that allows magistrates to opt out of performing marriages, part of the duty of the civil job.
The Supreme Court’s ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration. Some state officials and county clerks in states with bans struck down Friday might decide there is little risk in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Previous prohibitions against same-sex marriage in North Carolina and South Carolina were thrown out last year by federal judges. That allowed thousands of same-sex marriages. But the Supreme Court agreed to decide the issue after a separate federal court, in Cincinnati, upheld the bans in four states: Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan.
‘The highest ideals’
In a historic 5-4 vote, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority, the court said states refusing marriage licenses to same-sex partners are violating the 14th Amendment, which promises equal protection under the law and due process protection of certain fundamental rights.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” Kennedy wrote, joined by the court’s four more liberal justices. “(The challengers) ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
The four dissenting justices, representing the court’s conservative wing, each filed a separate opinion explaining their views.
“This court is not a legislature,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his 31-page dissent. “Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us.”
Roberts read a summary of his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in nearly 10 years as chief justice.
Justice Antonin Scalia said in his dissent that he is not concerned so much about same-sex marriage, but about “this court’s threat to American democracy.”
Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas also dissented. Joining Kennedy were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The right of liberty
Before the decision, 36 states allowed same-sex marriage. About 360,000 same-sex couples have married. The court’s ruling could lead to 70,000 more in states with bans struck down Friday.
Friday’s outcome was widely predicted by legal scholars – and even in U.S. public opinion polls – because of rulings by the court that struck down a key part of a 1996 law blocking federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allowing them to continue in California.
Kennedy, in the majority opinion, addressed the role of history in analyzing the Constitution.
“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times,” he wrote. “The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a character protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.”
Staff writer Erin Bacon, Anne Blythe of the (Raleigh) News & Observer and the Associated Press contributed.