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Supreme Court Rules That All States Must Allow Same-Sex Marriages


The United States Supreme Court has ruled that all 50 states must license marriages between same-sex couples. This is a dramatic and much-anticipated decision. We're going to be spending much of the morning talking about it. I'm joined in the studio right now by NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, and NPR White House correspondent, Scott Horsley.

And, Scott, let me just begin with you. Many people have been pointing to this day, looking at what the court would do. This is a major cultural issue in this country. Tell us exactly what the Court said here.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The Court struck a historic blow for equal protection for same-sex couples in all 50 states. This is a follow-up to the ruling two years ago, and Justice Kennedy is writing - wrote the majority opinion. It was a 5-4 decision. It reversed the one federal appeals court which had held that up. All the other appeals courts that had weighed in on this decision had also affirmed a right of same-sex couples to marry, so now gay marriage will be legal in all 50 states. It's a big legal ruling and it's also a cultural milepost. We've see a huge turnaround in public opinion on this in just the last decade or so. We now see 57 percent of Americans who support a right to same-sex marriage, and the Court has now affirmed that in all 50 states.

GREENE: OK. We're going to dig into a lot of the legal questions that were answered, some of the implications and what we're going to see in the coming months and years. Let me just turn to you, Mara Liasson, first on what - you know, a cultural marker, as Scott just suggested.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Huge civil rights decision, big, cultural sea change. We have never before seen public opinion shift this quickly on a social issue. It was just extraordinary. It reached a tipping point really fast, as Scott said. Just in the couple years ago, majority public opinion was against it. Now majority public opinion is for it. Democrats, Independents - the only group of voters who isn't there are Republicans. The latest CNN poll - 35 percent of Republicans are for it, 60 percent against it. That's why you see Republican candidates in a tough position on this because their base is against this where the rest of the country is for it. The Supreme Court caught up with public opinion, issued this ruling. The big question now is what do Republican candidates do? They've tried to find a kind of lily pad to perch on by saying, I'm very tolerant of gay couples, even though I am against gay marriage, I would be happy to go to a gay wedding.

It's difficult for them.

GREENE: You know, a 5-4 decision, though, a reminder that the country, you know, while there has seemed to be a shift, it's not a full shift. I mean, there are a lot of people who are still not comfortable. You know, we did a lot of reporting in the state of North Dakota on this program recently, listening to people kind of grappling with the question of how they feel about same-sex marriage, the definition of marriage.

LIASSON: But 5-4 is the norm. I mean, this is a 5-4 court, and it has been on many, many, many issues. This isn't - it's not just social issues where you see an even divide. And it's not a perfectly even divide in the country. It's majority opinion now for gay marriage. But, sure, there are a lot of other questions. Religious institutions are concerned about their tax-exempt status. What happens if you don't want to bake a cake for a gay wedding? I mean, there are all sorts of questions, but this is a big milestone.

HORSLEY: That will be one of the next battlegrounds now as we'll see moves across the country to have religious exemptions for commercial enterprises that don't want to, for example, cater to gay weddings. But before we get to that, I mean, it's also the Court that has been grappling with this and in particular, Justice Kennedy, who has now written many of the major milestone cases for gay rights. And just two years ago, he stopped short of going this far, stopped short of saying there was a right to marry in all 50 states. And Justice Scalia at the time warned that that other shoe was going to drop, and now it has dropped. And Justice Kennedy has cemented his role as, really, the biggest champion for gay rights on the Supreme Court.

GREENE: And let's talk about what the Court could've done and decided to do. There were two very important questions that the Court would be answering, and there was a chance that they would find some middle ground here, right, Scott?

HORSLEY: They could've split the baby, as it were. There was an opportunity to say states need not grant marriage licenses themselves, and then if that was the case the secondary question was would they have to recognize marriages performed in other states where it is legal? Now that the court has said it's legal in all 50 states, that secondary question is sort of less significant, although I think they've also said that all states must recognize marriages performed elsewhere. Mara was talking a little about the implications of this for politicians. And you know, it was an interesting case study in Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, a Republican, who's now running for president.

GREENE: Right.

HORSLEY: It was last fall when he was running - last summer, I should say, when he was running for re-election in Wisconsin, a blue state, that the appeals court - or, the Supreme Court cleared the way, denied cert. in a lot of cases and extended same-sex marriage to lots of states. And at that time, Scott Walker, running for re-election in a purple or blue state, said, great, let's get this behind us. I'm moving on to other issues. Now he's campaigning for the Republican primaries. He's trying to cater to a much more religiously-conservative audience and he's floating ideas like a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. That just shows you how - the bind that Republican candidates are going to be in as they try to appeal to a shrinking pool of very conservative voters.

GREENE: Are there any legal questions that remain unanswered? I mean, does this decision appear to be absolute, or for people in states where they want to try and figure out ways to not allow same-sex marriages to go forward, are there opportunities still for that, or is this pretty much the end of the story?

HORSLEY: There were four dissents, and all four dissenting justice, I believe, wrote separately, so there's going to be a lot of parsing of language here and there may be legal questions, as we say. One question that has already come up is what does this mean, for example, for state officials who say they have a religious objection to performing same-sex marriages? The state of North Carolina, the legislature there just passed a law over the objection of the Republican governor saying state officials who claim to have a religious objection need not perform same-sex marriages even if it's legalized by the state. We're going to see that fight again and again with commercial enterprises - can businesses claim a religious objection a la the Hobby Lobby case? I'm sure there's going to be a lot of legal ground still to plow. But still, a very big marker put down by the Supreme Court today.


LIASSON: Yeah, in Indiana, we saw what happened when a state tries to pass what they call religious liberty laws. Religious liberty was the place that conservative, anti-gay marriage people thought was a safe field to fight the next battle on because people believe in religious liberty. But Indiana got all tangled up in laws that would - allowed people to say, this is against my religious beliefs, I don't want to cater to a gay wedding.

They came off as intolerant. The business community weighed-in and they were forced to stand down.

GREENE: Talk to us if you can about - I mean, both of you have covered politics. You've been out in the country speaking to people during campaigns and other times for many years now. Were you surprised by how sort of quickly public opinion seemed to change on this issue and bring us to this moment?

HORSLEY: David, I remember working as an intern at MORNING EDITION in 1986 when the Supreme Court issued its Bowers v. Hardwick case. That was written by Justice White, from my home state of Colorado, basically saying there was no constitutional protection for the intimate relations of same-sex couples. It was almost a dismissive decision. And I remember conversations around the MORNING EDITION table about just how much we could even say on a morning radio program, as people were eating their breakfast, about this very sensitive subject. What a sea change we've seen from 1986 to today. Of course it was Justice Kennedy who reversed the Bowers v. Hardwick case in the Lawrence v. Texas decision. He said it was wrongly decided in the 1980s and struck down all the sodomy laws. And now we've seen just a steady march towards this day when same-sex marriages will be recognized from coast-to-coast.

GREENE: And we should say, President Obama's Twitter feed has just sent out a tweet.

(Reading) Today's a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry just like anyone else. Hashtag #LoveWins.

HORSLEY: Just a couple nights ago, the president was celebrating gay pride month at the White House. There was a reception, as there is every June, and he took the time as he has each year in his presidency to sort of catalog the milestones for the gay and lesbian community in this country. And of course everybody was thinking ahead to this decision and what was going to happen. He talked about the political change. He said when he was first elected, politicians were running away from gay rights, himself included in some extent. Now he says they're running towards it. That's perhaps an exaggeration, but certainly the political winds have shifted dramatically. The president himself has gone through a very public evolution on this subject. Think back just to 2004, when opposition to same-sex marriage was a wedge issue that the Republican Party used to drive their voters to the polls. Now it's a potential wedge issue for Democrats. Mara talked about how Republicans are less favorable towards same-sex marriage than Democrats as a whole, but of course the big split is the generational shift and the folks under 30 who are much more supportive.

GREENE: And we're going to talk much more about this throughout the morning and throughout the day. Just to restate the news, this morning a dramatic decision from the United States Supreme Court. The justices ruled 5-4 that all 50 states in this country must license marriages between same-sex couples. We'll be having much more of this on our program throughout the day on air and online. Scott Horsley, NPR White House correspondent, national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, in the studio with me. Thank you both very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

HORSLEY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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