Tuesday, April 18, 2017

O is for Obergefell

Obergefell v. Hodges 
[June 26, 2015, decision 5-4]

The lead case:

James Obergefell and other same-sex couples sued Richard Hodges, Director of the Ohio Department of Health and other similar officials in Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee, arguing that the states' statutes banning same-sex marriage violated the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  One group of plaintiffs also brought claims under the Civil Rights Act.

Michigan case:
DeBoer v. Snyder
A female couple who participated in a commitment ceremony and their three children, born to one of the partners.  The other partner wanted to adopt the children and be listed as the other parent.  Michigan law allowed adoption only by single people or married couples.

Ohio cases:
Obergefell v. Kasich
A male couple, a widower, and a funeral director are parties.  The couple was married in Maryland but their state of Ohio wouldn't recognize the marriage.  John Arthur, Obergefell's spouse, was terminally ill and they wanted the death certificate to include a “surviving spouse.”

The second case from Ohio involved four couples, a child, and an adoption agency.  The couples wanted to force the state to list both parents on their children's birth certificates.

Kentucky cases:
Bourke v. Beshear 

Four same-sex couples and their six children challenged Kentucky's bans on same-sex marriage and the recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.

Love v. Beshear
Two male couples who were denied a marriage license.

Tennessee case:
Tanco v. Haslam 

Four same-sex couples wanted their out-of-state marriages to be recognized in Tennessee.

The case gained much national attention and had 148 amici curiae briefs submitted [friend of the court, written by non-parties, usually organizations that have an opinion as to how the Court should rule], more than any other US Supreme Court case.

The Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marry and that states cannot say marriage is reserved for heterosexual couples. "Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,"

Bottom line:  all states are required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize same-sex marriages which are validly performed in other jurisdictions.

In closing, Justice Kennedy wrote for the Court:

"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. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

Loving v Virginia


In 1958, Richard Loving, a white man, married Mildred Jeter, a black woman, in the District of Columbia. When they returned to their home in Virginia, they were convicted of violating the state's statute banning interracial marriages.

In a unanimous decision, the Court struck down Virginia law. It rejected the state's claim that the law was constitutional because it applied equally to blacks and whites. The Court called race distinctions "odious to a free people" and said “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

Did you guess right?
Here's Wednesday's hint - P is for Property.  Can you guess the case and what it's about?  Leave a comment!


  1. I followed this case from the days of Proposition 22 ... I worked for marriage equality for many years. This case affected so many of my friends, some of whom did not live to see their dreams of marrying their long-time partners come to fruition. Thank you for sharing this important information.

    1. Wow you've followed this case for a long time. Glad to know you were here to see the end.

  2. I'm gonna take the hint and go with an Intellectual Property case. I don't even know if this went to the Supreme Court, and I never saw the movie with Greg Kinnear, but I'll go with the guy who invented the windshield wiper.

    But now that I think about it, that's gonna be wrong because you're gonna do something on property rights if I base it on what I believe to be your history.

    1. Well, P is about property rights, but I'm sure it's not what you're thinking. N was about property rights too.

  3. I should have known this as the DeBoer case was all over the papers here and Judge Friedman is an old friend. I was furious that our state fought this case just because a bunch of bigots voted to discriminate.

    1. While I was researching this post, I was surprised by the number of consolidated cases that were involved.

  4. I'm happy to hear all these people achieved their right to marry within the law, especially those with children involved. Discarded Darlings - Jean Davis, Speculative Fiction Writer, A to Z: Editing Fiction

    1. Another thing which surprised me when I was researching this post was that the cases were not only about marriage per se, but included children.