"The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in Friday's landmark Supreme Court decision upholding same-sex marriage in all 50 states, effectively squashing the lingering opposition to marriage equality. The ruling was a close one, with swing vote Kennedy siding with the liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. However, it was also a life-affirming, confident and definitive ruling that will likely usher in a new era in the United States.
"That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time," Kennedy wrote. And the law — as we are citizens of a law-abiding society — must continue to evolve with it.
Kennedy acknowledged early on in his opinion that marriage has been between one man and one woman for more than a millennia. That heterosexual framework has been part of our natural social order, so to speak, influencing both the domestic and legal spheres. To restructure that social order would be to "demean" the institution of marriage, the defendants argued. "Marriage, in their view, is by its nature a gender-differentiated union of man and woman," Kennedy wrote.
But Kennedy follows that with perhaps the best summary of the present same-sex marriage movement — and the 2015 role of marriage in society:
The petitioners acknowledge this history [of marriage] but contend that these cases cannot end there. Were their intent to demean the revered idea and reality of marriage, the petitioners’ claims would be of a different order. But that is neither their purpose nor their submission. To the contrary, it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions. This, they say, is their whole point. Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.
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