“Marriage the court declined to hear the case “for

“Marriage is a basic human right. You
cannot tell people that they cannot fall in love”.

This
quote comes from the one and only Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Although it has to
with the issue of interracial marriage, the same principles apply for same-sex
marriage. Same-sex marriage has been one of the most controversial topics in
recent decades. Certainly everybody has heard about this issue and almost
everyone has their own opinion about it. Some believe it should not be allowed
and others believe the contrary. The recent court case of Obergefell v. Hodges is one that lead to such a landmark decision
and will forever be remembered in the LGBTQ community. On June 26, 2015 and in
a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to
marry in all 50 states. Before getting into the details of the case and why
this decision was made, it is important to understand a little bit of the
history behind the subject and what led to this result.

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            On May 18, 1970 two men named Jack
Baker and Michael McConnell walked into a Minneapolis courthouse with $10 and
tried to apply for a marriage license. Baker was a law student and McConnell
was a librarian. The two had met at a Halloween party in Oklahoma in 1966. In
the courthouse, the county clerk named Gerald Nelson, refused to give them a
license and told them that marriage was meant for partners of the opposite sex.
After the clerk rejected their application, Baker and McConnell sued in a state
court. Baker argued that only allowing opposite-sex couples to marry was unconstitutional
and discriminatory. He believed that it was a violation of the 14th
amendment because it violated both the equal protection and due process
clauses. He compared his case to the Loving
v. Virginia case, which was an interracial marriage case in 1967 in which the
Supreme Court ruled that state bans were unconstitutional. This case has been
used as precedent for many same-sex marriage cases. Ultimately the trial court
ruled in favor of Mr. Nelson. Baker and McConnell decided to appeal, but were
shut down once again. The state Supreme Court agreed with the trial judge’s
decision. The couple once again appealed to the United States Supreme Court in
1972, but the court declined to hear the case “for want of a substantial
federal question”. The right for people of the same-sex to have a
constitutional privilege to get married, was apparently too baffling to even consider.
The denial to hear the case forced all of the lower courts to interpret a very
unexplained decision regarding same-sex marriage. In other words, it was up to
each state to decide whether they wanted to make it legal or not. This was not
a good sign for those hoping to see gay marriage become legalized nationally.

            In 1973, Maryland was the first
state to make a law that stated marriage was explicitly for a man and woman. In
1975, Virginia followed their lead, as well as Florida, California, and Wyoming
in 1977. It would not be until the late 1993 that states voted in favor of
same-sex marriage. In 1993, the Hawaii state Supreme Court ruled in the case Baehr v. Lewin that not allowing people
of the same of the sex to get married could be unconstitutional. It was the
first time that any state hinted toward making gay marriage legal. This decision
sparked a lot of outrage for heterosexual marriage supporters. In response to
the decision, the United States Congress passed the Defense of Marriage act
(DOMA) in 1996 and it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. This law did
not necessarily ban gay marriage, but it specifically said that only partners
of the opposite sex were allowed to have federal marriage benefits. Even if a
state did choose to legalize it, benefits such as filing taxes jointly or
spousal social security payments would not be allowed. This setback led to
Hawaii completely banning gay marriage in 1998. As a result, this created a
trend throughout the United States for the next decade. The year 2004 was
especially notable for state level bans. Along with ten conservative states, Oregon
passed a law that prohibited gay marriage. Texas and Kansas also did in 2005.
It would not be until 2010 that same-sex supporters started to become hopeful
once again.

            In 2010, same-sex marriage once
again became a federal issue because of a case known as United States v. Windsor. It all started in 2007 when a lesbian
couple whose names were Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, got married in Ontario,
Canada. The state of New York, where the couple resided, recognized their
marriage. Nonetheless, the federal government, thanks to the Defense of
Marriage Act (DOMA), did not. When Thea Spyer passed away in 2009, she had
signed to leave her estate to Edith Windsor. Unfortunately, since the Federal
Government did not legally recognize their marriage, Ms. Windsor did not qualify
for a tax exemption for being a surviving spouse. This caused the government to
enforce a $363,000 estate tax. Edith decided to sue the United States
Government, and it’s a good thing she did. Shortly after she sued in 2010,
Barack Obama’s administration announced that they no longer supported DOMA.
After that, the 2nd United States Court of Appeals decided that
section 3 of DOMA, which prohibited the financial benefits to same-sex couples
violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. In 2013
and in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court confirmed this decision and officially
ruled that section 3 was unconstitutional. This decision did abolish the prohibition
of the federal benefits to same-sex partners, but it did not create a constitutional
right to allow them to marry.

            In June 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges completely eradicated the power of
DOMA. This case not only included Jim Obergefell, but also many other same-sex
couples who sued their own states for failure to recognize their marriages. Jim
Obergefell, who led all the plaintiffs, sued because he was not allowed to put
his name on the death certificate of his partner. Together they argued that
section two of DOMA, which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex
marriage, was unconstitutional. The trial courts sided with the plaintiffs and
the 6th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed. That is what led to the
case to be brought to the United States Supreme Court. Ultimately, the deciding
vote came down to conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy. He was the same judge
who the deciding vote in United States v.
Windsor. He voted in favor of Jim Obergefell and officially made same-sex
marriage legal throughout the entire country.

There is no question that this court case
was one of the biggest turning points in American politics, along with history
of this country. Whether people want to admit or not, the right decision in
this case was made. This decision has brought happiness to millions of people
and has completely changed their lives for the better. It has given the people
of the LGBTQ community a reason to finally believe that their civil rights are
just as important as everybody else’s.