In a landmark decision on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry. The Supreme Court was asked to rule on two specific issues—the power of the states to ban same-sex marriages and the power of the states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
This ruling means that same-sex couples have the right to be married in their own states and to have their marriages recognized as valid in every other state. Effective immediately, all states must start (or continue) issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the same terms as opposite-sex couples.
The Supreme Court held that marriage is a fundamental right under the Constitution for both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. It noted that the institution of marriage has evolved over time in response to developments in law and society and outlined four legal principles that supported its ruling that marriage is a fundamental right for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. These legal principles are as follows:
- The right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy;
- The right to marry supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals;
- Marriage safeguards children and families; and
- Marriage is a keystone to our social order.
The Supreme Court did not consider whether federal nondiscrimination laws should be expanded to protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, a number of states have laws that prohibit such workplace discrimination. Employers should keep any applicable laws in mind when providing any rights or benefits to employees.
The Supreme Court’s decision impacts the legality of same-sex marriages throughout the country. Same-sex couples will be allowed to marry in any state, and will be entitled to the all the rights, benefits and obligations given to opposite-sex spouses under both federal and state law. Also, due to this ruling, employers will generally be required to treat employees in same-sex marriages the same as employees in opposite-sex marriages for many federal and state law purposes.
For more in-depth information, read our full Healthcare Reform Legislative Brief.