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Gay rights supporters celebrate outside of U.S. Supreme Court following Friday's announcement of the ruling on the same-sex marriage case.
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Read the Supreme Court's opinion overturning bans on gay marriage

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Congratulations to the many married or soon-to-be married couples in same-sex unions that will finally be recognized anywhere and everywhere in our nation.

After decades of litigation and activism and shifts in public opinion about gay and lesbian relationships, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Friday that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage and that all states must grant those marriages and recognize them.

"The ruling affirms what millions across this country already know to be true in their hearts: our love is equal," said the lead plaintiff, Jim Obergefell, who challenged Ohio's ban on same-sex marriage. "The four words etched onto the front of the Supreme Court — 'equal justice under law' — apply to us, too."

But the court's majority opinion, penned by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, didn't just stick to constitutional law to explain the court's thinking. He also focused on the realities of love — that all of us hope we and our children and children's children will find comfort, companionship, nurture and a home with the person we, and they, love.

"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," he wrote." 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."

The cases came from Tennessee, Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio — all states that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The petitioners were 14 same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners are deceased.

One of Tennessee's couples, Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty, made history even before their case was selected to be heard before the Supreme Court. Their daughter, Emilia Maria Jesty, was the first baby born in Tennessee to have a woman listed as her "father" on her birth certificate. Tanco and Jesty, both veterinary professors at the University of Tennessee, were legally married in New York, but then moved to Tennessee, which did not recognize gay marriage. They filed their lawsuit in 2013 to ask that the state recognize their marriage and Jesty's legal rights as Emilia's parent.

The other Tennessee couple is Army Reserve Sgt. First Class Ijpe DeKoe and his partner Thomas Kostura. In 2011, DeKoe received orders to deploy to Afghanistan. Before leaving, he and Kostura married in New York. When he returned from deployment, the two settled in Tennessee, where DeKoe works full-time for the Army Reserve. DeKoe served his nation to preserve the freedom the Constitution protects, but the freedom to have his marriage recognized was denied him in Tennessee.

Soon after Friday's ruling, marriage licenses were being issued in Tennessee county clerks' offices, and Gov. Bill Haslam said the state will comply with the high court's decision.

But change is hard for some. In Tennessee's capitol, socially conservative state legislators already were hard at work Friday afternoon drafting a "Tennessee Pastor Protection Act" to "protect all religious clergy from performing same sex marriages, as well as providing legal protection from being forced to perform same sex marriages on church property."

Kennedy, in his majority opinion, made note change is hard, but added: "Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations."

Indeed. Interracial marriage was illegal in many U.S. states until a 1967 Supreme Court decision. Coverture, where a woman's legal rights and economic identity were subsumed by her husband upon marriage, was commonplace in 19th century America. No-fault divorce has changed the institution of marriage since its introduction in California on Jan. 1, 1970. Aside from marriage, we once had centuries of legal slavery. Later we had laws requiring separate but equal schools, bathrooms, etc. Today we know all of those outdated contrivances for what they were: shameful and hypocritical customs we once thought necessary. Not only were they unnecessary, they also were simply and plainly wrong.

As Thomas Jefferson once wrote (and his message is now enshrined on the southeast portico of the Jefferson Memorial), "I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

This ruling marked a growth day for America.

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The majority: What Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote

"The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution's central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed."

"To the respondents, it would demean a timeless institution if marriage were extended to same-sex couples. But the petitioners, far from seeking to devalue marriage, seek it for themselves because of their respect — and need — for its privileges and responsibilities, as illustrated by the petitioners' own experiences."

" this Court's cases and the Nation's traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of the Nation's social order. States have contributed to the fundamental character of marriage by placing it at the center of many facets of the legal and social order. There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle, yet same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage and are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would find intolerable."

"While the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, individuals who are harmed need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right."

"Finally, the First Amendment ensures that religions, those who adhere to religious doctrines, and others have protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths."

— Justice Anthony Kennedy

What others are saying:

"For gays and lesbians who have waited so long for the court to recognize their relationships as equal to opposite-sex relationships, it was a remember-where-you-were-when moment. Justice Kennedy's powerful and humane opinion will affect the course of American history, and it will change lives starting now."

— The New York Times

"The Supreme Court's recognition Friday of a fundamental constitutional right to same-sex marriage was a huge step forward not just for gay and lesbian Americans, but for a nation that has steadily expanded its concept of equality under the law."

— USA Today

"Look around, Americans. Your nation just became bigger and better. In a giant stride forward for civil rights, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay men and lesbian women are equal under the Constitution and entitled to marriage and all of its benefits. What a day. Because of the historic Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, decided by a 5-4 vote, same-sex couples who have been together for years can seal their love through marriage if they choose. No longer will the right to a complete union depend on a state's boundaries. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land

" Kennedy's opinion will become required reading for students of history, American culture and civil rights."

— Kansas City Star

"Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Supreme Court's decision Friday in Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognizes marriage as a basic right, is that it's not going to be very controversial. (Despite the close 5-4 split in Friday's Supreme Court decision, including vigorous dissents to Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion, this issue will rapidly be tossed into the history books alongside questions of whether women should vote or alcohol should be prohibited.)

— By Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg News

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