Berman & Asbel, LLP

The nationwide legalization of gay marriage

Just over a year ago, same-sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania.  In mid-May, our state became one of many to recognize same-sex marriages. That decision was the result of a ruling by a federal judge, who declared Pennsylvania's gay marriage ban was unconstitutional. While that decision was not appealed by then-Governor Tom Corbett, there remained the possibility of that decision coming into question once the U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue.

However, on June 26, 2015 in an historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, ruled that the right of same-sex couples to marry is protected under the 14th Amendment and therefore states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as they would to opposite-sex couples and states must also recognize marriages of same-sex couples that are licensed and performed in other states.  With this ruling, same-sex marriage is now legal and must be recognized throughout the entire United States and its territories.

On June 26, 2015, Supreme Court justices issued a 5-4 decision granting constitutional rights to same-sex couples who want to marry. In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated the Constitution guaranteed "equal dignity" for gay couples. The dissenting justices each delivered their own written opinions.

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts claimed the decision allowed gay couples to achieve "a desired goal," but said the ruling was not constitutional. Justice Antonin Scalia argued democracy was threatened as a result of the Supreme Court's pronouncement. The final ruling placed the United States among 21 countries where gay marriage is legal.

The legal rights of unmarried individuals change when they wed. Until the nation's position on gay rights changed with the high court's decision, married same-sex partners were excluded from federal and sometimes state legal benefits of marriage. The rights of Philadelphia same-sex partners who marry are now on par with their heterosexual counterparts.

The high court's ruling reflects public opinion -- a gay marriage approval rate of about 66 percent among U.S. residents. Justices also set in motion revisions to numerous laws. An attorney can provide insight about how the recent ruling may affect your situation.

Source: CNN, "Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide," Ariane de Vogue and Jeremy Diamond, June 26, 2015

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