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In Light of Obergefell v. Hodges Decision, State of Texas Now Ordered to License and Recognize Same-Sex Marriage

Friday, June 26, 2015, was unquestionably a historic day in the realm of family law, constitutional law, and for the country as a whole.  On this day, a majority of the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.  Justice Kennedy, who delivered the majority opinion of the Court, was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan in this momentous decision.  

In holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex, the Court relied on the precedent of Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405. U.S. 438 (1972) and Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), which established that the fundamental liberties of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs.  The Court elaborated that the right to marriage has long been protected by the Constitution and outlined four principles and traditions to demonstrate why the fundamental right to marriage applies with equal force to same-sex couples.  The first premise of the precedents cited by the Court is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.  The second principle outlined by the Court is that the right to marry is fundamental since “it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals.”  The third principle outlined by the Court for protecting the right to marry is that marriage safeguards children and families and therefore draws meaning from the related rights of childbearing, procreation, and education.  The fourth and final principle outlined by the Court with respect to its demonstration of how the right to marry is a fundamental right for same-sex couples is that the Supreme Court’s prior cases and American traditions clearly show that marriage is a keystone of our country’s social order.

The Court also reasoned that the right of same-sex couples to marry is derived from the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  As such, the Court concluded that the right to marriage “is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

As for the other side of the same-sex marriage debate, which is often motivated by religious beliefs, the Court emphasized that these religions and those who adhere to such religious doctrine “may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”  The Court explained that “[t]he First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure as they have long revered.”  In other words, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment still offers the same protection for these religious beliefs.

Since the Court held that same-sex couples shall have a fundamental right to marry in all States, it logically followed that the Court also held “that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.”  Previously, many same-sex couples who were legally married in a State and who later moved to a different State that did not recognize same-sex marriage could not obtain a divorce since the later State did not recognize their marriage as valid in the first place.  That ended Friday with the Supreme Court’s ruling, and as such, both marriage and divorce for couples of the same sex must now be authorized in the State of Texas.

To find out more about the new rights afforded to same-sex couples as a result of the Obergefell v. Hodges case, contact an attorney at McClure Law Group, PC, 214-692-8200.