News Americas

Thursday 26 April 2018

Supreme court makes gay marriage legal across the entire US

Gay rights supporters celebrate yesterday outside the Supreme Court building in Washington. Photo: Reuters / Jim Bourg
Gay rights supporters celebrate yesterday outside the Supreme Court building in Washington. Photo: Reuters / Jim Bourg

Raf Sanchez and Peter Foster

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that gay marriage should be allowed across the entire United States, settling once and for all one of America's most divisive social questions.

The landmark ruling from America's highest court means that all states, even in the deeply conservative South, must allow same-sex couples to marry.

The decision was met with cheers and elation from gay rights activists gathered on the marble steps of the Supreme Court but despair from conservative groups across the US.

It represents an extraordinary turning point in US history, just 11 years after Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay couples to wed.

In that time, US President Barack Obama became the first US president to back gay marriage and public opinion shifted rapidly in favour of allowing gays and lesbians to wed.

A Gallup poll found last month that while 60pc of Americans supported same-sex marriage, around 37pc remained opposed.

That divide was reflected on the court bench where the four liberal justices were joined by Anthony Kennedy, a centrist judge, to pass the decision on a 5-4 vote. All four of the court's conservatives voted against.

"Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilisation's oldest institutions," Justice Kennedy wrote. "They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

Antonin Scalia, one of the court's most conservative justices, said the court's decision was a "threat to American democracy".

The ruling brings to an end a strange legal limbo where same-sex marriage was allowed in 37 of America's 50 states but remained banned in the others. The marriage of a gay couple in one state would also not be recognised in another, where gay marriage was prohibited.

Yesterday's ruling evens the law across the entire country and is expected to be met with a race by same-sex couples to town halls and courts in states where gay marriage was once prohibited. "The highest court in the land said that gays and lesbian couples are equal and should be treated equally," said one man on the steps of the Supreme Court. "America has lived up to her promise of liberty and justice for all."

The ruling from Washington was met with celebrations across the US.

Conservative groups reacted with fury to the court's decision, with the Family Research Council (FRC) saying, "Americans will not stop standing for transcendent truth".

"No court can overturn natural law. Nature and Nature's God, hailed by the signers of our Declaration of Independence as the very source of law, cannot be usurped by the edict of a court, even the United States Supreme Court," said FRC president Tony Perkins.

John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, said he was "disappointed that the Supreme Court disregarded the democratically enacted will of millions of Americans by forcing states to redefine the institution of marriage."

During hearings in April the justices heard arguments over whether gay marriage should be legalised as a constitutional right all across America, forcing the 13 US states that currently ban same-sex marriages to perform the unions.

The long-awaited ruling came two years after the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down a law defining marriage as between only a man and a woman when it came to applying for federal benefits, paving the way for this much wider ruling on gay marriage.

During the hearings, the justices were conscious that their decision would overturn a view of marriage that had existed since time began.

"This definition has been with us for millennia, and I think it's very difficult for this court to say 'we know better'," Justice Kennedy said at the time.

But set against those concerns, Justice Kennedy challenged the notion that heterosexual marriages were superior because they included the higher purpose of procreation, and that same-sex couples were not entitled to the same dignity as traditional married couples. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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