Watch CBS News

​Same-sex marriage: A matter of dignity

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy called it a matter of dignity when he wrote his majority opinion upholding the right to same-sex marriage
The Supreme Court and the "dignity" of same-sex marriage 06:12

A matter of "dignity" is how Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy cast his majority opinion upholding the right to same-sex marriage. Though Friday's decision invoked high constitutional principles, the case had its roots in a very human, very personal crisis. Our Cover Story is reported by Martha Teichner:

A party broke out on the steps of the Supreme Court when its ruling affirming the right of same-sex couples to marry was announced. For the record, the case was called Obergefell v. Hodges.

And in the middle of the noise and jubilation, Jim Obergefell got a phone call from President Obama:

"Your leadership on this has changed the country," Mr. Obama said.

"I really appreciate that, Mr. President," Obergefell said. "It's really been an honor for me to be involved in this fight, and to have been able to fight for my marriage and live up to my commitments to my husband."

Jim Obergefell and John Arthur had been together more than 20 years when they were married in July of 2013. Arthur was dying of ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, so family and friends raised $13,000 to fly the couple by medical jet out of Ohio (where gay marriage was prohibited) to Maryland, where the ceremony was performed legally, aboard the plane, on the tarmac in Baltimore.

All Obergefell wanted was to be listed as "husband" on Arthur's Ohio death certificate.

As he told CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford, "I promised John. It was one more promise I made to him that I would fight for him. I would fight for our marriage wherever that led."

Their sad love story, combined with cases from Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky, led to Friday's historic 5-4 ruling, and to Justice Anthony Kennedy's words, in the majority opinion: "They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

"The thing about the same-sex marriage issue is, it wasn't started by the big gay groups -- they hated this issue," said Andy Humm, a long-time gay activist and journalist in New York.

"The big gay groups thought it was a big loser, and they were right in the beginning."

What changed so quickly? Because, he said, same-sex marriage in a few states happened, "and the sky didn't fall. The law changed, and what changed for people in their lives? Well, they just saw happiness for gay couples."

Gloria and Linda Bailey-Davies were married on May 17, 2004, the first day same-sex marriage licenses were issued in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage.

Since then, how much the landscape has changed is remarkable, and how fast -- over the last two years especially, the number of states has accelerated, reaching 37 -- before the Supreme Court guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage nationwide.

In 1996, fewer than 3 in 10 Americans (27 percent) thought same-sex marriage should be legal. Now, nearly 6 in 10 (57 percent) do.

Among those who do not: 55 percent of Republicans.

"I don't think most of us who have ever read the scripture would believe that there is a division over what marriage means," said former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. "It's still one man, one woman, life partners, and the courts can no more suspend the law of marriage any more than it can suspend the law of gravity."

Like Huckabee, every Republican presidential candidate has lined up against the Supreme Court ruling.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's response? "Amen, thank you!"

Chief Justice John Roberts argued in his dissent that the issue should have been left to states -- voted on, not decreed by the court. "Just who do we think we are?" he wrote.

"We have to go, obviously, by what the courts say, but I certainly can disagree with them, and I do," said Alabama Governor Robert Bentley. He's willing to comply with the ruling, but there is resistance..

When Michael Robinson and his partner, Earl Benjamin, tried to get a marriage license in New Orleans after the court ruled on Friday, they were told they would have to wait. Louisiana and Mississippi claimed "legal technicalities."

"It's disappointing that Louisiana will not be following the movement that is happening around the country today," said Robinson.

And in Texas, Reverend Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastor Council vowed disobedience. "A law that violates the law of God is no law at all," he said. "There is no question: it is by the thousands and tens of thousands and the hundreds of thousands that will not bend the knee and we will not kiss the ring. We will not bow to the god of political correctness that seems to be dominating much of our court system today."

Andy Humm said in response, "This is your homophobia. This is your fear. This is your hatred of gay people, and you gotta get over it."

Immediately after the Supreme Court decision, 85-year-old Jack Evans and 82-year-old George Harris, partners for more than 50 years, were the first gays to tie the knot legally in Dallas. An estimated 390,000 same-sex couples had already beaten them to it in the United States, raising this question: A generation from now, will gay marriage be a non-issue?

For more info:

    View CBS News In
    CBS News App Open
    Chrome Safari Continue
    Be the first to know
    Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.