WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) -- The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled same-sex marriage is now legal in all fifty states, adding to a list of recent victories for the gay-rights agenda granted by the left-leaning court.
In the 5-4 ruling, the court said the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license marriages between same-sex couples and also requires states to recognize same-sex marriages already conducted in states where it was legal prior to the ruling.
As expected, Justice Anthony Kennedy was the deciding vote on the court and wrote its ruling. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
After oral arguments on the case, known as Obergefell v. Hodges, Kennedy signaled he was leaning toward acceptance of the arguments in favor of gay marriage. He said then that the question of "human dignity" was in play.
In the ruling today, Kennedy wrote, "While the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, individuals who are harmed need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right."
In Kennedy's expansive definition of marriage, he said there were four constitutional reasons for expanding the institution of marriage to include gay couples. First, he wrote, is the right of personal choice as "inherent in the concept of individual autonomy."
Second, he wrote, the right to marry "supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals."
Third, Kennedy claimed the right to marry "safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childbearing, procreation and education."
Lastly, Kennedy wrote that the court's decisions have indicated marriage is a "keystone of the Nation's social order." Therefore, he said, the states do not have a right to determine their own marriage laws.
"States have contributed to the fundamental character of marriage by placing it at the center of many facets of the legal and social order. There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle, yet same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage and are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would find intolerable. It is demeaning to lock same-sex couples out of a central institution of the Nation's society, for they too may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage," Kennedy wrote.
Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas offered dissenting rulings in Obergefell v. Hodges. Those dissents matter little now as the course of legal precedent in the country is set toward the full acceptance of same-sex marriage in an evolving society.
Kennedy addressed the changes in society in his ruling. He wrote that marriage "has stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. The institution – even as confined to opposite-sex relations – has evolved over time."
Kennedy said in his opinion marriage was once arranged by parents for various reasons, among them political, religious and financial, but by the 18th century it was understood as a "voluntary contract between a man and woman." Further changes, such as interracial marriage, illustrated for Kennedy that the contractual character of marriage could continue to change. He, therefore, argued that there was no compelling reason to confine marriage in the current era to that between a man and a woman exclusively.
"Like choices concerning contraception, family relationships, procreation, and childrearing, all of which are protected by the Constitution, decisions concerning marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make," Kennedy wrote.
"The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation."
One of the chief arguments against same-sex marriage was that same-sex marriage and the rights of religious liberty and free speech could not co-exist under such a societal arrangement. Religious organizations, including churches, Christian universities and charities and religious non-profits have claimed the acceptance of same-sex marriage would compel religious institutions to recognize a union they deemed unbiblical and immoral. Kennedy attempted to allay those concerns in his ruling.
"The First Amendment ensures that religions, those who adhere to religious doctrines, and others have protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths," he wrote.
"Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right."
However, Justice Roberts wrote in his withering dissent that the court and same-sex proponents were treading on dangerous ground, creating "serious questions about religious liberty."
"Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is — unlike the right imagined by the majority — actually spelled out in the Constitution," Roberts wrote.
"Respect for sincere religious conviction has led voters and legislators in every State that has adopted same-sex marriage democratically to include accommodations for religious practice. The majority's decision imposing same-sex marriage cannot, of course, create any such accommodations. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to 'advocate' and 'teach' their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to 'exercise' religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses," Roberts added.
Story to follow on the opinion of dissenting opinions from Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito.