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I These cases come from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, States that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations. This view long has been held—and continues to be held—in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.

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Rights implicit in liberty and rights secured by equal protection may rest on different precepts and are not always co-extensive, yet each may be instructive as to the meaning and reach of the other. Indeed, recognizing that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged, this Court has invoked equal protection principles to invalidate laws imposing sex-based inequality on marriage, see, , 539 U. The marriage laws at issue are in essence unequal: Same-sex couples are denied benefits afforded opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right. (4) The right to marry 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. (5) There may be an initial inclination to await further legislation, litigation, and debate, but referenda, legislative debates, and grassroots campaigns; studies and other writings; and extensive litigation in state and federal courts have led to an enhanced understanding of the issue.

Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial works a grave and continuing harm, serving to disrespect and subordinate gays and lesbians. Same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. The State laws challenged by the petitioners in these cases are held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples. While the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, individuals who are harmed need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right.

Finally, this Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of the Nation’s social order. It is demeaning to lock same-sex couples out of a central institution of the Nation’s society, for they too may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage. (3) The right of same-sex couples to marry is also derived from the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest. The Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause are connected in a profound way. 374, where the Court invalidated a law barring fathers delinquent on child-support payments from marrying. The challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and they abridge central precepts of equality.

The marriage laws at issue thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples. This does not mean that the right to marry is less meaningful for those who do not or cannot have children. States have contributed to the fundamental character of marriage by placing it at the center of many facets of the legal and social order.

Precedent protects the right of a married couple not to procreate, so the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate. There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle, yet same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage and are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would find intolerable.

Questions about the legal treatment of gays and lesbians soon reached the courts, where they could be discussed in the formal discourse of the law. Numerous same-sex marriage cases reaching the federal courts and state supreme courts have added to the dialogue. This abiding connection between marriage and liberty is why , at 574.

In 2003, this Court overruled its 1986 decision in , 570 U. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.

Since the dawn of history, marriage has transformed strangers into relatives, binding families and societies together. Were their intent to demean the revered idea and reality of marriage, the petitioners’ claims would be of a different order.

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