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Supreme Court ruling legalizes same-sex marriage nationwide
The Supreme Court in a historic 5-4 ruling on Friday said there is a right to same-sex marriage in all 50 states, delivering a monumental win for gay rights across the country.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote on the court, sided with its more liberal members and authored the 34-page decision.
He wrote that marriage is a "keystone of the nation's social order" and that there is "no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle."
Kennedy then criticized that same-sex couples are denied the benefits that states have linked to marriage.
"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," he wrote.
Supporters of same-sex marriage cheered outside the Supreme Court as word of the decision leaked outside. Many held flags adorned with a blue and yellow equal sign, the logo of the LGBT advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign.
Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, called the decision a "profound victory."
"America has once again fulfilled its promise of the Constitution to another group of Americans," he said.
Kennedy's opinion declares that all states must recognize same-sex marriages under the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. He swats down the argument promoted by those against same-sex marriage, who asserted that granting same-sex marriage would devalue or harm the institution of traditional marriage.
"Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect - and need - for its privileges and responsibilities," he writes.
"And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment."
All four conservative justices wrote dissenting opinions, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the longest, 29 pages, of which he read excerpts from the bench.
While Roberts recognized the day is a monumental one for gays and lesbians, he wrote that it has "nothing to do" with the Constitution.
"If you are among the many Americans - of whatever sexual orientation - who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision," he writes.
"Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it."
Justice Antonin Scalia, fresh off of a scathing dissent in Thursday's Affordable Care Act case, penned his own decision even though he said he completely agrees with Roberts's views, in order to "call attention to this court's threat to American democracy."
Scalia writes that the outcome of the decision is not particularly important to him, and that he believes the law can recognize "whatever sexual attachments and living arrangements it wishes, and can afford them favorable civil consequences."
But, as he warned in his dissent Thursday, he views the opinion as an overreach by the court that goes beyond its role as a neutral arbiter to create policy.
"Today's decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court," he writes.
"This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves."
The fierce national debate over same-sex marriage, which spans more than a decade, began when gay and lesbian couples started to challenge state-approved bans on gay marriage in courts across the country.
Most of the bans were struck down as unconstitutional in a succession of federal court rulings, but that string of victories for gay marriage supporters came to an end in November, when the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld bans in Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky.
The ruling created a lower court split, forcing the high court to answer calls from those on both sides of the fight to revisit same-sex marriage.
In the case, known as Obergefell v. Hodges, the court was faced with answering two questions: whether states are required to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and whether states have to recognize same-sex marriage licenses from other states under the 14th Amendment.
That second question is moot after the ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.
The court released the decision on the anniversaries of two other seminal Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage: Lawrence v. Texas and U.S. v. Windsor. Lawrence struck down anti-sodomy laws in 2003; Windsor struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, which codified the federal government's definition of marriage as only heterosexual.
Public support for gay marriage in the United States has steadily grown in recent years.
A record 57 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. But while almost two-thirds of Democrats and independents back legalizing same-sex marriage, just one-third of Republicans share that view.
That partisan divide could complicate the calculus for Republicans ahead of the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton, the current Democratic front-runner, has already incorporated the issue into her campaign, which she launched with a video that included a brief appearance by a same-sex couple.
But every GOP candidate has spoken out against granting a national right to same-sex marriage, so all eyes will be on how the party reconciles that stance with the court decision.
The party and its presidential contenders will have to decide whether to punt on the issue and remove it from the electoral conversation, or to dig in and fight back with a proposal for a constitutional amendment to overrule the court, as Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Gov. Scott Walker (Wis.) have supported.
-This story was updated at 10:37 a.m.