The 5-4 decision was released Friday morning.
Gay and lesbian couples already can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The court’s ruling on Friday means the remaining 14 states, in the South and Midwest, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.
It also means that Idaho same-sex couples who got marriage licenses starting in October will remain legally married.
“Of course we're excited,” said Lisa Perry, spokeswoman for Add the Words Idaho, one of the groups that wants to add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity into Idaho’s Human Rights Act. “Of course we want to remind people more than ever now people need to add the words. People can go to work with wedding rings on and still be fired for being gay.”
Leo Morales, acting executive director for Idaho’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, echoed the same concern in a statement.
“No longer should we tolerate any person being fired, denied housing or public services, simply because they are gay or transgender,” Morales said. “It is undeniably wrong that hardworking LGBT community members in many parts of the state of Idaho live in fear that they can be wrongly fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, and denied service in restaurants and shops simply for being who they are.”
Already, two celebrations of the ruling are planned in Boise. One event is planned for Friday afternoon at The Community Center on North 8th Street. Add the Words, Idaho will host a rally on the Capitol steps Friday at 5:30 p.m.
A federal judge threw out a 2006 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages last year, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling. The first same-sex marriage licenses were issued in October.
State officials had continued to appeal that ruling, however, petitioning both the 9th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. Gov. Butch Otter referenced the effort in his January State of the State address. “It’s a matter of upholding the will of the people of Idaho as expressed at the ballot box. My personal feelings about any given issue are secondary to fulfilling my oath of office and my responsibilities under the Idaho Constitution,” Otter told the Statesman in October.
“Today’s decision is truly disappointing for states, including Idaho, where the people chose to define marriage for themselves as between one man and one woman,” Otter said in a written statement Friday. “I have maintained from the very beginning that it should be the prerogative of the states — not the courts — to determine whether same-sex marriage is consistent with the values, character, and moral fabric of that particular state. That is why it was especially troubling that the Court treated the 10th Amendment as a footnote, instead of the guiding principle our founding fathers intended.”
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who also pursued an appeal, released the following statement through a spokesman Friday: “The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. We will review the decision and begin to evaluate what, if any, kind of impact it has on Idaho.”
The outcome is the culmination of two decades of Supreme Court litigation over marriage, and gay rights generally.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, just as he did in the court’s previous three major gay rights cases dating back to 1996. It came on the anniversary of two of those earlier decisions.
“No union is more profound than marriage,” Kennedy wrote, joined by the court’s four more liberal justices.
The stories of the people asking for the right to marry “reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memory, joined by its bond,” Kennedy said.
As he read his opinion, spectators in the courtroom wiped away tears after the import of the decision became clear. One of those in the audience was James Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court fight.
Outside, Obergefell held up a photo of his late spouse, John, and said the ruling establishes that "our love is equal." He added, "This is for you, John."
The four dissenting justices each filed a separate opinion explaining their views, but they agreed that states and their voters should have been left with the power to decide who can marry.
“This court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in dissent. Roberts read a summary of his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in nearly 10 years as chief justice.
“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” Roberts said. “But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”
Justice Antonin Scalia said 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.
President Barack Obama welcomed the decision via Twitter, calling it “a big step in our march toward equality.”
The ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration. But some state officials and county clerks might decide there is little risk in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The cases before the court involved laws from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. They were among the shrinking number to limit marriage. All told, 37 states and the District of Columbia already allow same-sex marriage, either as a result of a court decision or because of the state’s own action. A court ruling in the other direction could have caused considerable confusion in sorting out everyone’s legal status.
Underscoring the shifting tide of public sentiment, 63 percent of U.S. residents surveyed in a CNN/ORC International poll in February said they thought gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, up from 49 percent in August 2010.
Many politicians, too, have taken note.
As recently as 2004, then-President George W. Bush saw political advantage in championing a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. Now, while Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas introduced in April the familiar constitutional amendment limiting marriage, he has failed to attracted any Senate co-sponsors.
Just two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law that denied a range of government benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
The decision in United States v. Windsor did not address the validity of state marriage bans, but courts across the country, with few exceptions, said its logic compelled them to invalidate state laws that prohibited gay and lesbian couples from marrying.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor formed the majority with Kennedy on Friday, the same lineup as two years ago.
There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans. Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says. Roughly 1 million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the United States, the institute says.
The Obama administration backed the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Justice Department’s decision to stop defending the federal anti-marriage law in 2011 was an important moment for gay rights, and Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage in 2012.