SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- In a sweeping historic ruling, the Supreme Court ruling has the effect of legalizing lesbian and gay marriage nationwide, giving same-sex couples an equal right to marry.
The landmark decision overturns bans on same sex-marriage in states across the country. The ruling requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and forces states to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Gay and lesbian couples already can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The court's 5-4 ruling means the remaining 14 states, in the South and Midwest, will have to stop enforcing their bans 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 justices have been deliberating since April on a federal appeals court ruling in Cincinnati that upheld bans on same-sex unions in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, four of the 13 remaining states that allow only heterosexual marriage. That ruling reversed pro-gay rights rulings of federal judges in all four states.
The challenge to the appellate ruling was brought by 32 plaintiffs in six separate lawsuits.
Both sides presented oral arguments before the nine justices on April 25, in a hearing that lasted about 2½ hours. Passionate supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage rallied outside, just steps away from the Supreme Court Plaza, some carrying banners, bullhorns, others in costumes.
Only a few hundred observers were allowed inside to hear oral arguments from lawyers including gay and lesbian marriage advocate Mary Bonauto and former Assistant to the Solicitor General Douglas Hallward-Driemeier representing gay and lesbian plaintiffs. Former Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch argued on behalf of several states on the opposing side, along with U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli representing the federal government.
Opponents argued marriage is a fundamental right regardless of gender, and the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868 to give 'due process' and 'equal protection' to enslaved African-Americans after the Civil War, also gives gays and lesbians equal marriage rights.
Supporters of the appellate ruling submitted briefs on behalf of dozens of religious groups and Republican lawmakers including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz of Texas. They argued the bans are a matter of states' rights and were not put in place out of animosity toward gays and lesbians.
CLICK on the links to listen to the April 28, 2015 proceedings and read the transcript.
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