The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of marriage equality today, striking down same-sex marriage bans nationwide in what is being considered the biggest victory for LGBT rights in U.S. history. The final count was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Thomas and Scalia in the dissent in the 103-page decision.

From the ruling, written by Justice Kennedy:

There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle. Yet by virtue of their exclusion from that institution, same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage. This harm results in more than just material burdens. Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society. Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.

The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency
with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest. With that knowledge must come Opinion of the Court the recognition that laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.

“It’s a beautifully written, well-reasoned, thoughtful decision that will stand the test of time,” Lambda Legal senior attorney Beth Littrell tells Georgia Voice. “It’s a great day in America. Everyone wins.”

As for what’s next with the federal class action lawsuit Lambda Legal filed challenging Georgia’s same-sex marriage ban, Littrell says, “We expect that the resolution to our lawsuit will happen swiftly. It remains to be seen whether that will be through continued litigation or if the state will waive the white flag and surrender. But there’s nothing stopping government officials in the state of Georgia from marrying same-sex couples. Nothing.”

RayShawn Chandler and her wife Avery are plaintiffs in the Georgia lawsuit. She Skyped with Avery about it, who is a soldier in the U.S. Army deployed overseas.

Merritt McAlister, president of the Stonewall Bar Association and a partner at King & Spalding, said of the ruling, “The decision is remarkable, and sweeping.  As Justice Kennedy often has in this area of the law, he resists tethering his analysis to a single framework or legal principle.  The decision is a blend of fundamental rights and equal protection analysis, that resists easy categorization.   Justice Kennedy is clearly moved by the concept of “equal dignity,” as a right that the Constitution protects, as well as the harms and injustices that exclusion inflicts on same-sex couples.  That concept of “equal dignity,” is also fundamental to how he approaches the issue: Justice Kennedy uses the entire opinion to dignify same-sex couples and their families.  It is difficult, for example, to read his narrative of the facts and circumstances of the individual couples at the heart of these cases and not be moved.”

McAlister was also a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Constitutional scholar Anthony Kreis weighed in on the decision as well, saying, “Today’s historic decision is a tremendous victory for LGBT equality and for same-sex couples in Georgia who want to marry. Justice Kennedy’s opinion makes it abundantly clear that demeaning people on the basis of the sexual orientation is incompatible with the Constitution not because the Constitution has changed, but because our understanding of sexual orientation has. The Court has further made clear what same-sex marriage advocates have been saying for many years– extending the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples does not weaken marriage, but strengthens it. Going forward, it is clear that the courts will aggressively combat LGBT discrimination. For now, however, it is time that Georgia and all states immediately comply and allow loving, committed couples to marry.”

President Obama reacted on Twitter.

President Obama also called Jim Obergefell, lead plaintiff in the case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, telling him, “Your leadership on this has changed the country.” He later spoke from the Rose Garden of the White House, saying, “This decision will end the patchwork system we currently have.  It will end the uncertainty hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples face from not knowing whether their marriage, legitimate in the eyes of one state, will remain if they decide to move [to] or even visit another.  This ruling will strengthen all of our communities by offering to all loving same-sex couples the dignity of marriage across this great land.”

Vice President Joe Biden also released a statement, saying:

Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that simple proposition—supported by a majority of Americans and a majority of our states—by recognizing that men marrying men and women marrying women are guaranteed the same civil rights and equal protection under our Constitution afforded to Jill and me, and to anyone else.

We couldn’t be prouder. Over the years—in their homes, on our staff, on the frontlines of war, and in houses of worship—Jill and I have befriended countless gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans who share a love for their partners constrained only by social stigma and discriminatory laws. But today, their love is set free with the right to marry and the recognition of that marriage throughout the country.

This day is for them, their children, and their families. And it is for generations of advocates—gay, lesbian, transgender, straight—who for decades fought a lonely and dangerous battle. People of absolute courage who risked their lives, jobs, and reputations to come forward in pursuit of the basic right recognized today, but at a time when neither the country nor the courts would protect or defend them.

And this day is for history to remember as one where, as a nation, our laws finally recognize that all people should be treated with respect and dignity—and that all marriages, at their root, are defined by unconditional love.

The White House changed their Twitter profile pic following the decision.

The White House changed their Twitter profile pic following the decision.

Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow issued a letter to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens, saying, ““In order to be in full compliance with the law, we urge you to take immediate action to ensure that all City Recorders and Magistrates begin issuing marriage licenses to all eligible Georgia couples immediately. […] Delaying the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples is not only unlawful, but allows the discriminatory impacts of an unconstitutional law to continue.”

Olens, who defended the state against the federal class action lawsuit, issued a statement saying he would abide by the court’s decision:

Today the Supreme Court of the United States ruled the Constitution requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state. It does not permit bans on same-sex marriage.

In our system of government, the Supreme Court bears the ultimate responsibility for determining the constitutionality of our laws. Once the Supreme Court has ruled, its Order is the law of the land. As such, Georgia will follow the law and adhere to the ruling of the Court.

Governor Deal tweeted out a similar sentiment:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed issued the following statement Friday afternoon:

Today is an historic occasion for the City of Atlanta, for Georgia, and for America. The Supreme Court’s ruling marks a momentous victory for freedom, equality, and love. It is clear that the arc of history continues to bend ever closer toward justice.

The Court’s ruling is a powerful testament to our country’s founding principles. Surely if we are a nation of equality and justice, then no loving couple should be treated as inferior to any other. If we truly believe in equal protection under the law, then we must defend this fundamental right to marriage.

Atlantans have long worked to create a just and inclusive society. We have a proud history of upholding human rights and providing equal opportunity to all people. That history is rooted in the knowledge that our diversity makes our city stronger.

I urge Georgia’s state and county officials to move swiftly to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling and the Constitution’s command. Atlanta’s same-sex couples have already waited far too long for the respect and dignity they deserve.

While we celebrate this crucial step toward achieving our vision of equality, we must also realize that our work is not complete. We must ensure that love is never a barrier to success and that no one is ever fired, evicted, or denied service simply for being who they are. I am confident that the people of Atlanta will continue to lead the way as we work toward becoming a more just state and nation.

State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) released a statement Friday afternoon saying, “I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.  The Court’s  decision on gay marriage is a victory not just for the LGBT community but for all Americans who believe in justice. When some of us become more free, we all become more free. The decision overturns the 2004 Georgia constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage.  No longer will Georgians be prevented from participating in the most important expression of love and commitment that our society has.”

Democratic Party of Georgia Chair Dubose Porter issued a statement shortly after the ruling was announced:

Today is a huge victory not only for advocates of marriage equality, but advocates of basic civil rights. This decision is the culmination of decades’ worth of battles fought to ensure that all families and the love they share are protected and treated equally under the law.

“While we have plenty of reason to celebrate, we still have work to do in Georgia. Until we have employment non-discrimination legislation on the books, LGBT workers can be fired just for being who they are. Our cities and counties have led the way on this issue, but the state remains on the wrong side of history. Love should never be a fireable offense, and I encourage state leaders to work together to forge a more equal and just Georgia.

Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman John Eaves celebrated the decision in a statement, saying, “The Court reaffirmed what so many of us in Fulton County have long believed. This community has long worked on behalf of supporting equal rights for all of our citizens.  I am overjoyed to see that belief reflected by the nation’s highest court.”

A mass wedding ceremony will take be held at the Assembly Hall of the Fulton County Government Center at 1 p.m., which will include a number of judges from the Fulton County courts, including the Probate Court, Superior Court, State Court and Probate Court.

Three Fulton County Probate Court office locations are issuing marriage licenses:

• Fulton County Courthouse – 136 Pryor Street, Suite C-230, Atlanta, Georgia 30303

• North Fulton Service Center – 7741 Roswell Road, Suite 225, Atlanta, Georgia 30350

• South Fulton Service Center – 5600 Stonewall Tell Road, Suite 218, College Park, Georgia 30349

A statement from GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis:

Today, love prevailed and our nation became a more perfect union by affirming that all people are indeed created equal and justice belongs to everyone. With this decision, loving and committed same-sex couples can finally rest knowing their families are protected and their dignity is no longer up for public debate. But as we celebrate this watershed victory for fairness, we are reminded that marriage equality is a benchmark, not a finish line, and our work to bridge the gap to full acceptance for LGBT people continues.

The National Log Cabin Republicans on the decision:

Today the Supreme Court of the United States finally recognized what Log Cabin Republicans has long advocated for: the constitutional right of committed same-sex couples to engage in civil marriage partnerships,” Log Cabin Republicans National Executive Director Gregory T. Angelo stated. “At hand lies a tremendous opportunity for healing on all sides: Log Cabin Republicans encourages marriage equality advocates to resist the temptation of being ‘sore winners’ and respecting others who may not yet be at a place of acceptance; and opponents of marriage equality who can light a way out of the LGBT culture wars by recognizing that civil marriage for committed same-sex couples is no threat to any straight couple’s marriage, family, or faith. This is a watershed moment for the LGBT rights movement — one that had its genesis on the center-right — and Log Cabin Republicans congratulates our allied organizations, grassroots Chapter Leaders, and — especially — those committed same-sex couples who moved national sentiment on marriage equality so far, so fast simply by living their lives in quiet dignity.

Georgia Equality tweeted out a picture of the first same-sex couple to get married in Fulton County. The county will begin marrying couples at 1 p.m.:

The news wasn’t met with total acceptance of course, with State Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), author of the so-called “religious freedom” bill that failed to pass in this year’s legislative session, Tweeting out the following minutes after the decision was released.

As for what happens in Georgia now that the state’s 2004 same-sex marriage ban has been struck down, click here. Rallies will occur today across the state–click here to find the one nearest you.

Georgia Equality and Freedom To Marry are hosting a rally at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Those expected to be in attendance include plaintiffs and attorneys from Georgia’s marriage lawsuit; Fulton County chairman, John Eaves; Fulton County commissioner, Joan Garner; Atlanta City council member, Alex Wan; State Representatives Karla Drenner and Simone Bell; and Rabbi Joshua Lesser and other civic and religious leaders.  The Congregation Bet Haverim Choir and Atlanta Freedom Band will provide entertainment for the festivities.

The Atlanta Police Department issued a statement to Georgia Voice earlier this morning before the opinion was released, saying, “As the nation prepares for the ruling from the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, the Atlanta Police Department will be prepared if citizens choose to gather in support or opposition to the decision. As always, we support anyone who wishes to express their views and concerns as long as it is done in a peaceful and lawful manner.   At this time there are no plans to add additional personnel to Zone 5 as they should be able to handle any crowds with discretionary and patrol resources.”

The full decision is below.

psaunders@thegavoice.com | @patricksaunders

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