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Patricia A. O'Malley
Social Policy & Programs Consulting ~ Community Matters
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Marriage Equality: Myths and Facts
What the Supreme Court Ruling Means to You
August 31, 2015
Few issues polarize Americans as much as marriage equality. There are few “undecideds” on this one, and the opponents draw the lines around something called “faith”. As usual, too many people are operating without the facts. So here they are.
The Supreme Court Ruling
Countless court rulings have addressed marriage equality. Finally, on June 26, 2015 the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case Obergefell v Hodges that the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does protect the right of same-sex couples to marry, just as it protects the marriage rights of opposite-sex couples. So what does this mean for you?
First, the United States Constitution. Article VI, Section 2 says:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
That means that federal law beats state law. Every time.
The Fourteenth Amendment, Section 2, says:
… No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
That means that every law in every state must apply to all of the people.
The Court’s ruling affects only marriage licenses. That’s all. It means that if any state issues marriage licenses, then it must issue them to all couples who apply. The states may not refuse licenses to same-sex couples.
States can still make any laws they like about the rights and benefits of marriage, but those laws must pertain to all married couples. States are free to abolish all marriage licensing laws if they like.
This also applies to marriage license clerks, who are usually county employees. Clerks may not refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of their faith, or for any other reason. They can still practice their religion any way they like, but they are not entitled to those jobs. They can work elsewhere if they don’t like the law. And no state judge has the power to change it.
At this writing, Congress is contemplating seven bills and resolutions, including two constitutional amendments, to nullify the Supreme Court ruling. Those bills have not made any progress yet.
The ruling does not affect churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, their clergy, or other religious institutions.
Religious marriage ceremonies have never been legally valid. You still need that license.
Many States don’t require wedding ceremonies. The only thing you need to be legally married is a license signed by a witness. That witness can be any adult. In religious marriages, the officiating clergy person usually signs the license as the witness. But you can get anyone off the street to do it and your marriage still counts.
The government has never forced any church to perform a marriage for anyone.
Churches have always limited their marriages to people who qualify under church rules.
The issue of businesses discriminating against LGBT employees or customers is a bit complex. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and subsequent laws prohibit businesses from discriminating against customers and employees because of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status, and age over 40. Federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
According to Nolo.com:
Almost half the states and the District of Columbia have laws that currently prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in both public and private jobs: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
In the other thirty states, any business can still fire you from a job for your sexual orientation, whether you have a marriage license or not.
Only twenty-one states prohibit LGBT discrimination in public accommodations in some form or another. In those states, businesses that provide services to the public may not refuse those services to same-sex couples. That discrimination is legal in the other 29 states and the District of Columbia. Source.
Any business can deny you a job or service anywhere for being married, unmarried, tall, left-handed, a Democrat, a Republican, or wearing blue socks.
Naturally, some people think that laws don’t apply to them and will continue to discriminate. There will be lawsuits. There will be headlines. Eventually, the dust will settle, just as it did with the Civil Rights Act fifty years ago.
If you’re already in an opposite-sex marriage, the ruling doesn’t affect you at all.
If you’re not married yet, but may one day be in an opposite-sex marriage, the ruling doesn’t affect you either.
However, a few counties have stopped issuing marriage licenses for the moment, so your plans may be delayed.
If you were in a same-sex marriage before the ruling, the Supreme Court has validated your marriage. No one can ever claim that you’re not married. You are entitled to all of the benefits, privileges, and duties of all married couples.
That includes income taxes, property ownership, inheritance, parenthood, employee benefits, and decision-making.
If you’re not married yet, you are now free to marry your same-sex partner everywhere in the United States.
Many employers, including government agencies, offer benefits to married employees. It will take a while for all of those offices to catch up with the new rules. They’ll have to train their staffs and change forms and procedures. And all of those recalcitrant clerks will have to learn that they DO have to respect the law.
Other Non-Traditional Marriages
Opponents claim that this ruling opens the slippery slope to polygamous, incestuous, bestial, and other unconventional marriages. That fight may be on the horizon but, at this writing, those are still illegal.
Marriage equality is an important social issue, with many economic and political ramifications. The people who promote these fallacies don’t believe them. They want you to believe them. Wasting your time arguing about this distracts you from watching what the politicians are doing next, and you’ll miss the action on other important issues. Watch your wallet.
For more information:
U.S. Supreme Court Marriage Equality Ruling
Federal Civil Rights Legislation
Beware the Politics of Distraction
Read the Constitution
See all Congressional Activity