WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Friday that it is legal for all Americans, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, to marry the people they love.
The decision is a historic victory for gay rights activists who have fought for years in the lower courts. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia already recognize marriage equality. The remaining 13 states ban these unions, even as public support has reached record levels nationwide.
The justices found that under the 14th Amendment, states must issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize same-sex unions that were legally performed in other states. Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
The lead plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges is Ohio resident Jim Obergefell, who wanted to be listed as the surviving spouse on his husband's death certificate. In 2013, Obergefell married his partner of two decades, John Arthur, who suffered from ALS. Arthur passed away in October of that year, three months after the couple filed their lawsuit.
Obergefell was joined by several dozen other gay plaintiffs from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee who were fighting both to be able to marry and to have their marriage recognized in every state in the country.
The country's views of same-sex marriage have transformed since 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay couples to wed. In 2013, the Supreme Court began chipping away at the country's legacy of discrimination against same-sex couples when it struck down part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented same-sex couples whose marriages were recognized by their home state from receiving the hundreds of benefits available to other married couples under federal law.
President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to support marriage equality when he came out in favor of it in 2012, the same year that the Democratic Party made it part of its platform for the first time. The Republican Party and its slate of 2016 presidential aspirants, however, remain opposed to same-sex marriage. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) support a constitutional amendment protecting states that want to ban marriage equality.
Some conservatives have advocated for a civil disobedience effort against a Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage. However, officials in red states told The Huffington Post recently that they are prepared to implement the decision, going so far as to ready gender-neutral marriage licenses and set later office hours. Gerard Rickhoff, who oversees marriage licenses in Bexar County, Texas, said that if same-sex couples are discriminated against elsewhere in the state, "Just get in your car and come on down the highway. You'll be embraced here."