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James Obergefell lived in Ohio with his partner, John Arthur. The couple wanted to get married, but at the time, the State of Ohio forbade same-sex marriage. Obergefell and Arthur traveled to Maryland to get married.
Later, Arthur, who had been ill, passed away. The State of Ohio refused to list Obergefell as Arthur’s surviving spouse on the death certificate. Heartbroken and outraged, Obergefell sued the state.
The district court concluded that Ohio’s ban violated the Fourteenth Amendment. On appeal, Obergefell’s case was consolidated with thirteen other challenges to state same-sex marriage bans. The court of appeals concluded that there was no constitutional requirement for states to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.
The plaintiffs petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari. The Court took up the case to answer two questions: whether the Fourteenth Amendment obligated states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and whether states were required to recognize same-sex couples’ legal out-of-state marriages.
A sharply divided Court answered yes to both questions.
Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, concluded that the right to marry is a fundamental liberty guaranteed by the Due Process Clause and supported by the Equal Protection Clause. Four justices dissented, each writing separately and sometimes colorfully, to argue that the question of same-sex marriage should be decided through the democratic process, not the judicial one.
Despite these objections, Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015), was a watershed case in American history, granting same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide.