The 15 Most Interesting Lines from the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

The justices’ logic, as shown in the majority decision and four dissents, covered John Locke, the Federalist Papers, and the source of human dignity.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The end of the same-sex marriage debated played out 103 pages of legal documents on Friday, when the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that same-sex couples have a right to marry, and that all states must recognize those marriages.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, in which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan joined. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito dissented. 

While Thursday's big Obamacare ruling (or, as Scalia suggested, "SCOTUScare") focused on intent and statutory interpretation, Friday's opinion and the four dissents it inspired reads more like the debate happening in the rest of America. While the majority outlined how the importance of marriage proves that it should be a right available to all Americans, the court's conservative judges argued that it should be up to the states to decide. And like conservatives across the country, the dissenting judges were worried about what this would mean for religious conservatives. 

The majority: Justice Kennedy calls out “keystone of our social order”

At the center of the marriage case was the question of whether the right to same-sex marriage is protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. Kennedy writes that:

From the majority.
From the majority.

He goes on to write that: "The identification and protection of fundamental rights is an enduring part of the judicial duty to interpret the Constitution." Kennedy lists past Supreme Court cases that have established that marriage is a fundamental right and a "keystone of our social order." One case shows that the right to marriage is "fundamental" because there is nothing like it:

From the majority.
From the majority.

On the question of whether states can refuse to recognize marriages in other states, he writes even the side supporting same-sex marriage bans has acknowledged that upholding the right to same-sex marriage undermines the justification for the bans. 

Kennedy then goes through the arguments against the ruling. In response to the idea that the court is usurping the power of the people (an argument repeated through the four dissents to the majority opinion) he writes that "the Constitution contemplates that Democracy is the appropriate process for change, so long as that process does not abridge fundamental rights."

In response to the argument that same-sex marriage would hurt heterosexual marriages, he writes:

From the majority opinion.
From the majority opinion.

And, in response to the argument that this decision will hurt religious groups who oppose it, he writes:

From the majority opinion.
From the majority opinion.

In closing, Kennedy writes that the petitioners have asked for "equal dignity in the eyes of the law" and the court has granted it.

From the majority opinion.
From the majority opinion.

Dissent: Justice Roberts asserts “this court is not a legislature”

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the same-sex couples petition the court "make strong arguments rooted in social policy and considerations of fairness." But:

From Robert's dissent.
From Robert's dissent.

Roberts adds that the majority opinion "neglects th[e] restrained conception of the judicial role" and ruled on "its own 'understanding of what freedom is and must become.'" For that reason, he writes, "I have no choice but to dissent." He also makes a point to clarify that his dissent isn't about whether he personally supports same-sex marriage.

In conclusion, Roberts acknowledges that supporters of same-sex marriage should celebrate, but shouldn't thank the Constitution:

From the Roberts dissent.
From the Roberts dissent.

Dissent: Justice Scalia says “domestic relations” are a state issue

Like Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia writes that the issue isn't whether or not same-sex marriage should be allowed, but who should decide it. Scalia writes that prior to the Court's decision, there was a passionate but respectful debate among Americans over same-sex marriage.

From Scalia's dissent.
From Scalia's dissent.

He goes on to write that the Constitution, specifically the Fourteenth Amendment, doesn't mention marriage because "domestic relations" are a state issue. Scalia cites Kennedy's 2013 majority opinion in United States v. Winsdor, in which Kennedy wrote that the Defense of Marriage Act's ban on the federal recognition on same-sex marriage violated the rights of states that had legalized it. 

From Scalia dissent.
From Scalia dissent.

Scalia adds that "[w]hen the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868, every State limited marriage to one man and one woman, and no one doubted the constitutionality of doing so. That resolves these cases." 

Dissent: Justice Thomas argues the Constitution contains no “dignity” clause

To make his point that same-sex marriage is not protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause, Justice Clarence Thomas references the Magna Carta, and how John Locke informed the founding fathers' interpretation of the word "liberty."

But his most noteworthy argument is his challenge to the idea that marriage would grant dignity to same-sex couples. "The flaw in that reasoning, of course, is that the Constitution contains no 'dignity' Clause, and even if it did, the government would be incapable of bestowing dignity." He continues:

From Thomas's dissent.
From Thomas's dissent.

Continuing on the dignity thread, Thomas writes that while the majority is "deeply misguided," at least it cannot infringe on the rights of all the people who deeply disagree with the court's decision.

From Thomas's dissent.
From Thomas's dissent.

 

Dissent: Justice Alito delves into the meaning of tradition, child-rearing trends, and threats to the rights of conscience

Justice Samuel Alito, the most conservative of the nine court judges, focused on ideas of tradition in his dissent. He writes that, to prevent unelected judges from "imposing their personal vision of liberty" on the country "the court has held that 'liberty' under the Due Process Clause should be understood to protect only those rights that are 'deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition.'" Same-sex marriage is not, he writes, such a tradition.

From Alito's dissent.
From Alito's dissent.

Alito then highlights the argument made by states with marriage bans that, by limiting marriage to opposite sex couples, they "encourage potentially procreative conduct to take place within a lasting unit that has long been thought to provide the best atmosphere for raising children." If that argument doesn't ring true today, he adds, it's because the tie between marriage and procreation isn't as strong, as seen by the rate of unwed mothers. 

From Alito's dissent.
From Alito's dissent.

Toward the end of his dissent, Alito worries that people who are against same-sex marriage will be forced to either hide that part of themselves or risk negative treatment from the government, employers, and schools:

From Alito dissent.
From Alito dissent.
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