Supreme Court says same-sex couples have right to marry in all 50 states

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has made gay marriage legal in all 50 states.

Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

WASHINGTON, D.C (WATE/AP) – The Supreme Court has declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States.

The justices ruled 5-4 that same-sex marriage is legal. Their decision overturns the 6th circuit decision and requires states to issue a marriage license between two people of the same sex and to recognize same-sex marriages performed out-of-state.

Previous story: Knoxville church prepares to offer wedding services to same-sex couples after pending Supreme Court decision

Gay and lesbian couples already can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The court’s ruling on Friday means the remaining 14 states, including Tennessee, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.

Related: Twitter celebrates SCOTUS’ same-sex marriage decision

The outcome is the culmination of two decades of Supreme Court litigation over marriage, and gay rights generally.

SLIDESHOW: SCOTUS ends ban on same-sex marriage

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, just as he did in the court’s previous three major gay rights cases dating back to 1996. It came on the anniversary of two of those earlier decisions.

“No union is more profound than marriage,” Kennedy wrote, joined by the court’s four more liberal justices.

The ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration. But some state officials and county clerks might decide there is little risk in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Extended coverage: Same-Sex Marriage 

The cases before the court involved laws from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Those states have not allowed same-sex couples to marry within their borders and they also have refused to recognize valid marriages from elsewhere.

SLIDESHOW: Same-sex marriage arguments
SLIDESHOW: Same-sex marriage arguments

Just two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law that denied a range of government benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

The decision in United States v. Windsor did not address the validity of state marriage bans, but courts across the country, with few exceptions, said its logic compelled them to invalidate state laws that prohibited gay and lesbian couples from marrying.

The number of states allowing same-sex marriage has grown rapidly. As recently as October, just over one-third of the states permitted same-sex marriage.

More: Same-sex marriage ruling

There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans. Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says. Roughly 1 million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the United States, the institute says.

The justices ruled 5-4 that same-sex marriage is legal.
The justices ruled 5-4 that same-sex marriage is legal.

The Obama administration backed the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Justice Department’s decision to stop defending the federal anti-marriage law in 2011 was an important moment for gay rights and President Barack Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage in 2012.

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