Everything You Need to Know About Obergefell v. Hodges and Why It’s in the News

A Texas lawsuit supported by the Texas administration including Governor Gregg Abbott, argues that despite the Supreme Court ruling of 2015, no city or state is required to provide same-gender partner benefits even though they must allow for same-gender marriages.

The state Supreme Court heard arguments in this case on Wednesday, March 1, but this has got people asking what actually was the Supreme Court ruling of 2015, what did it say, and can states really deny same-gender partnership benefits?

Obergefell v. Hodges: Where the historic case began

Following the 2013 Supreme Court decision that overturned part of the federal ban on same-gender marriage recognition known as DOMA, Ohio resident James Obergefell and his terminally ill partner John Arthur, decided to marry in their neighboring state of Maryland. They did so, but were then told that Ohio would not recognize their marriage because of the state’s constitutional ban on marriage equality. The couple then filed a lawsuit (known as Obergefell v. Kasich).

They argued that because John Arthur was terminally ill they wanted the state’s Registrar to officially recognize Obergefell as a surviving spouse when it came time to issue Arthur’s death certificate, something they believed was a constitutional right. The Registrar in fact agreed that to refuse to recognize Obergefell’s claim to spousal affiliation would be unconstitutional, but the state attorney general’s office announced it would take the matter to court to defend the state’s marriage ban.

On July 22 of 2013 District Judge Timothy S. Black granted the couple a motion to temporarily restrain Ohio from applying its marriage ban in this case, thereby allowing Obergefell to have his name listed as a surviving spouse when Arthur passed away. Black extended that order while the case went to oral arguments.

During that time the case was amended after David Michener joined the suit. Michener married his partner William Herbert in Delaware but, after Herbert’s unexpected death while in Ohio, Michener found himself at the mercy of Ohio’s refusal to honor same-gender marriages. In this case, Herbert’s remains were being held at a Cincinnati funeral home pending a death certificate being issued. Michener was Herbert’s surviving spouse but Ohio law prevented his name from appearing on the death certificate. He sued and was added to the Obergefell case in September of that same year. 

Also making its way through the district court process around this time was a second, separate case that would be known as Henry v. Hymes. It involved four same gender couples who were suing the state to be recognized as joint parents to their children.

Ultimately, Obergefell reached the Sixth Circuit Appellate court where it was consolidated with Hymes. By this time several other marriage equality related cases had reached the court, these from Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. The cases were duly heard. Despite every other appeals court up to this point ruling in favor of a constitutional right to marriage, the Sixth Circuit ruled against the plaintiffs, a move that seemed designed to trigger the cases being taken up by the Supreme Court.

Having consolidated the cases under the Obergefell name, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral testimony on April 28, 2015. The questions asked by the court centered on two constitutional issues: whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to grant same-gender marriage licenses, and whether states must honor the marriages that were conducted by other states. 

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court handed down a 5–4 decision that the Fourteenth Amendment does require states to both grant same-gender marriages and that they must honor those marriages entered into out of state. 

In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the following, now famous, closing:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

So why is Texas trying to undermine marriage equality?

At the heart of the Texas suit and its fight over Houston’s same-gender partner benefits is the same old bigotry that existed prior to Obergefell. The state argues that nowhere did the court specifically state that partnership rights had to be extended to same-gender married couples, and argues this is a matter for states to decide.

However, on this Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion could not be clearer: Same-gender couples must be granted equal dignity under the law. There can be no equal dignity if same-gender marriage rights are left to the whims of city and state governments because that returns us to essentially the same state same-gender couples were in prior to Obergefell.

So, even if the Texas Supreme Court does cave and rules against same-gender couples, the federal courts have made it clear: Marriage equality and all its associated rights are here to stay.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

73 comments

Marie W
Marie W4 months ago

Thanks for posting.

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Telica R
Telica R7 months ago

Thank you for sharing!!!!!!!!

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pam w
pam w7 months ago

Gosh....still no explanation from "Faith."

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Carl R
Carl R7 months ago

thanks!!!

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Kevin B
Kevin Brown7 months ago

Equality is the law of the land and the Texas suit will not stand in light of Obergefell v. Hodges. The bigots are grasping at straws.

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Colin C
Colin C8 months ago

Of course gay marriage should be recognized

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pam w
pam w8 months ago

Faith...Karen H and I are waiting to hear from you. Seems to me that, as a Quaker/Friend, you're surprisingly judgmental, hateful and close-minded. Maybe you can explain why my brother's same-gender marriage and Karen's long partnership (sadly ended by death) (once again, Karen--my condolences) have anything whatsoever to do with making YOU unhappy and unable to find love and marriage? Hmmmmmm?

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ERIKA S
ERIKA S8 months ago

noted

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Bill E
Bill E8 months ago

It would be nice if we had an Administration that supports human rights. Human rights, not corporate rights.

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Karen H
Karen H8 months ago

Excuse me, Faith, but I had "a meaningful, satisfactory partnership" for 25 years before my beloved partner died. I know many heterosexual singles (and couples) who have never experienced a meaningful, satisfactory partnership, and probably never will. I feel sorry for them.

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