On Friday, June 26, the United States Supreme Court issued a sweeping and historic decision in the cases collectively referred to as Obergefell v. Hodges. The Court, in a decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, held that the United States Constitution requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed out of state. Same-sex couples will now be able to get married anywhere in the United States, and those marriages will be recognized everywhere else in the nation in the same way that marriages between opposite-sex couples are currently.
The Court’s decision largely framed the issue as one of fundamental rights, as seemed to be foreshadowed from the oral arguments in this case. The majority reaffirmed its long-established precedent that marriage is a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment. In the same way that the Court held in Loving v. Virginia that states could not deny individuals the right to marry someone of a different race, the Court has now held that states cannot deny individuals the right to marry someone of the same sex. The Court also indicated, however, that even under an analysis of equal protection doctrines, the justifications put forth by the opponents of same-sex marriage did not even rise to the level of constituting a rational basis.
So what is the impact of this decision in Connecticut? As was noted in an earlier post, the immediate impact will be limited. Connecticut has had marriage equality for seven years, and since then has also subjected laws classifying on the basis of sexual orientation to heightened judicial scrutiny. This will continue to be the case following the Court’s ruling. Where same-sex couples will see an immediate impact is when travelling out of state, particularly to states that until now had refused to recognize same-sex marriages. These couples will no longer have to plan their travel based on concerns that all of the rights and protections associated with marriage could be completely ignored depending on which state lines they cross or which airport they connect in. They will also no longer have to fear being transferred out of state for work or military stationing and having to live as legal strangers in their new home. These new developments are significant for the couples for whom such situations are very real possibilities. But for those couples who are planning to remain firmly planted in Connecticut, life will continue with their marriage rights intact.