Same-sex marriages are now legal across the entirety of the United States after a historic supreme court ruling that declared attempts by conservative states to ban them unconstitutional.
In a landmark opinion, a divided Supreme Court ruled Friday that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, establishing a new civil right and handing gay rights advocates a victory that until very recently would have seemed unthinkable.
The 5-4 ruling had Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority with the four liberal justices. Each of the four conservative justices wrote their own dissent.
The far-reaching decision settles one of the major civil rights fights of this era — one that has rapidly evolved in the minds of the American public and its leaders, including President Barack Obama. He struggled with the issue and ultimately embraced same-sex marriage in the months before his 2012 re-election.
Campaigners were jubilant at the news, which was greeted by euphoric scenes on the steps of the court.
“Today marks the culmination of a decades-long campaign in the court of public opinion and in the courts of law,” said Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry. “And while more remains to be done on many fronts, we can celebrate knowing that fairness and love (and much hard work) have won the day.”
Randy Johnson, a plaintiff in one of the concurrent cases brought before the court with his partner Paul Campion, said he still had goosebumps, hours after their 20-year-old son had texted them two words: “we won”.
“Soon as we heard the news, we were obviously in tears, and obviously overcome with emotion because this is the most amazing event we could imagine,” Johnson told the Guardian.
“It just means so much for so many people – not just gay and lesbian people,” he said. “It’s difficult for any American to see an oppressed population and people who are denied civil rights. It’s hard for anyone to handle, regardless of their orientation.”
Georgia was one of several states that began to issue marriage licenses for the first time immediately following the decision. Kathie DeNobriga, the mayor of Atlanta suburb Pine Lake who married her long-term partner last year as one of the few out gay politicians in the American south, called the court ruling “a victory of love in opposition to fear”.
“It was like I was sneaking away to get married,” she said. “Now we all have not the privilege, but a right to get married where we are.”
The rulings nonetheless kicked off a wave of decisions among courts across the country that struck down state-level bans on same-sex marriage and accelerated a trend that has seen the number of states allowing such weddings soar from just two in 2008, to all 50 in 2015 – plus the District of Columbia, from where a national celebration was only beginning on Friday morning.
The US becomes the 21st nation on earth to recognise same-sex marriage across the country.