On This Gay Day: Marriage Equality was achieved in the USA

In 2015 the US Supreme Court voted in favour of marriage equality

On this day is 2015 the LGBTIQ gathered outside the US Supreme Court to anxiously await the decision in the case of Obergefell vs Hodges. The stakes were high if the nine judge bench voted in favour of Ohio man Jim Obergefell – marriage equality would be achieved across the country.

The landmark decision saw the court has rule that it is unconstitutional for states to ban same sex marriage. The decision 5-4 in favour of allowing same sex couples to marry said that no matter where couples live in the USA they have a right to wed.

“The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.”

Justice Kennedy was joined in the opinion by the court’s liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The five justices voting in favour of marriage equality authored a single opinion on their decision.

All four of the court’s more conservative justices voted against the decision. The four dissenting judges, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. have each written a separate dissenting opinion the decision.

Delivering his dissenting opinion Chief Justice John Roberts said he believed that the decision should have been made politically rather than through the courts. Justice Roberts described the issue as being stolen from the people.

A short time later President Obama called Jim Obergefell, and as the world listened in, as President Obama thanked Jim for fighting for his right to have his marriage recognised.

Jim Obergefell has been described as an accidental activist. More than 20 years earlier Jim fell in love with John Arthur. The couple lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, a place where LGBT people were regularly picked up by the police or fired from their jobs because of their sexuality.

In 2013 Jim and John traveled to Maryland where same sex marriage was legal and exchanged vows. John was dying from the crippling neurodegenerative disease Amyotophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). They exchanged their vows on the private plane they had chartered for the journey.

But back in Ohio they union was not recognised. John’s death certificate would describe him as a single man, and Jim would not only have mourn the passing of his husband but would also be denied acknowledgement of the life they had shared.

The couple met Al Gerhardstein, a lawyer who had spent more than thirty years fighting civil rights cases. Together they began a long and grueling battle which was a David and Goliath challenge. Jim and John’s marriage sadly was cut short when John died just five days after they exchanged vows.

Jim kept fighting for recognition of their union. By the time the battle reached the supreme court they’d teamed up with many other couples fighting their own experiences of injustice. Jim Obergefell became the lead plaintiff in the case, his name at the top of the court documents.

Heading into the Court room the supporters of marriage equality were feeling optimistic, Jim Obergefell later shared with OUTinPerth what it was like on the morning of June 26th 2015.

“On that day, being the 26th of June, that morning we were all more optimistic about the ruling. It was Friday June 26th, and June 26th has been an important date for the community in the US. We were all more positive that morning.

“Then when we were standing outside of the court house in the public line where a police officer was handing out the tickets for the court room. Instead of being the colour they had been every other time – bright orange – the ticket that morning was lavender. So that was just this additional hint, this additional possibility that yeah, we might be getting really good news.

“Once I got to the courtroom, I was feeling pretty optimistic.” he shared.

Outside the Supreme Court has people rejoiced the decision, Jim spoke to the media, captured on camera was the moment when he got a call from the US President Barrack Obama.

Later in the day President Obama addressed the nation and commented on the historic legal decision. Speaking from the Rose Garden at The White House, President Obama said it was a day when America should be proud.

“This ruling will strengthen all of our communities by offering to all same sex couples the dignity of marriage all across this great land.” President Obama said.

“This ruling is a victory for Jim Obergefell and the other plaintiffs in the case. Its a victory for gay and lesbian couples who have fought so long for their basic civil rights. It’s a victory for their children, whose families will now be recognised as equal to any other.

“It’s a victory for the allies and friends and supporters who spent years, even decades, working and praying for change to come. And this ruling is a victory for America.

“This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal we are all more free.” President Obama said in his address describing the union of America as a “little bit more perfect” because of the ruling.

“That’s the consequence of a decision from the Supreme Court, but more importantly it’s the consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people, across decades, who stood up, who came out, who talked to parents. Parents who loved their children no matter what. Folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts, and stayed strong, and came to believe in themselves and who they were.

“And slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.” President Obama told the American people.

The ruling allowed LGBTI couples in all 50 states of the USA the ability to wed. The decision was described as the biggest changes to marriage laws in the USA since the court struck down bans on inter-racial marriages five decades earlier.

Fourteen states had implemented bans against same-sex marriage; Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

Read OUTinPerth’s interview with Jim Obergefell

Graeme Watson, this post was first published in 2021. 

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