On June 26, the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that the 14th Amendment requires states and the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages, bringing to a close one of the most significant modern public debates over the way the U.S. treats its gay and lesbian citizens.
In the majority ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy didn't focus significantly on legal precedents or the level of scrutiny the justices should use when analyzing whether bans on same-sex marriage recognition were discriminatory. Instead he focused on principles of liberty, including the right to personal autonomy and intimate association with others, in determining that the government must treat these relationships the same as it treats heterosexual relationships. As with interracial marriage, Kennedy said, the right to marry or not marry another person "resides within the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."
The four conservative justices each wrote separate opinions opposing the ruling. In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that it should remain in the power of the states to determine what sort of marriages to acknowledge. "Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own version of marriage as a matter of constitutional law," Roberts wrote. "Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept."
Roberts may not have a good read on the public's response. Polls show support for gay marriage recognition remains above 50 percent, though a July Reuters/Ipsos poll found more than 60 percent of Republicans believe the Supreme Court ruled wrongly.
Some judges and county clerks are resisting compliance. At a Decatur County clerk's office in Tennessee, the entire staff of three resigned rather than issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Law of the Land".