Four Cases That Paved The Way for Marriage Equality and a Reminder of the Work Ahead

by HRC Staff

The historic Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges made marriage equality the law of the land and changed the lives of millions of people.

Post submitted by Brian McBride, former HRC Digital Strategist 

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the historic Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made marriage equality the law of the land and changed the lives of millions of people who can now marry the person they love. As people across the U.S. celebrate this momentous day, today also serves as an important reminder of the work that still lies ahead in achieving full federal protections for the LGBTQ community.

Just today, the Supreme Court ruled that Arkansas officials must list the names of both married same-sex parents on their child’s birth certificate. The nation’s highest court also agreed to hear a case involving a Colorado baker who refused to provide services for a same-sex couple planning their marriage ceremony. Elected leaders across the country are seeking to ensure that LGBTQ people are not discriminated against in housing,employment, public accommodations and education, while federal courts are determining how sexual orientation and gender identity are covered by our nation’s federal civil rights laws. 

Over the past few decades, brave LGBTQ plaintiffs from around the nation have stood up for their rights by asking  the Supreme Court affirm their fundamental liberties. June 26 is a day that will remain in the history books as four pivotal cases were decided on this date, spanning more than 12 years.

HRC takes a look back at these instrumental cases to recognize and honor the hard work of the couples, advocates, organizations and supporters who helped change history.

Lawrence v. Texas (2003)

In 2013, the Supreme Court  in Lawrence v. Texas struck down Texas’ sodomy law - and in turn invalidated sodomy laws in 13 other states - making private, consensual, adult sexual activity between same-sex couples legal across the U.S.

This case laid the groundwork for much of the tremendous progress we’ve seen over the last several years by ensuring that LGBTQ people could not be criminalized for their loving relationships, and serves as a reminder of how much has been accomplished within the LGBTQ community. By ridding our country of this extreme persecution of LGBTQ people under the law, the narrative around equality was forever changed.

United States v. Windsor (2013)

After more than 40 years together, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were legally married in Toronto, Canada in 2007. Their marriage was officially recognized in New York in 2008 when their home state ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. When Thea died in 2009, she left her entire estate to Edie. However, Edie was barred from claiming the federal estate tax exemptions for surviving spouses under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that prohibited the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples, and as a result was faced with a $363,000 estate tax bill.

Windsor, represented by Robbie Kaplan, took her case to the Supreme Court, challenging the government’s ban on recognizing legally married same-sex couples for federal purposes including social security, immigration, and family and medical leave. Same-sex couples across the nation came away victorious as section 3 of DOMA was overturned.

On that same day…

Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013)

In 2009, two same-sex couples, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, filed suit against the state of California in federal court, arguing that California’s Proposition 8 violated the U.S. Constitution by denying them a fundamental right and depriving them of equal protection under the law. Prop 8, a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, had passed at the ballot the previous November, stripping same-sex couples of the right to marry in California.

Attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies represented the couples, and marriage equality was returned to the Golden State.

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)

Dozens of courageous couples took their fight for marriage equality to court, including Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court case that brought nationwide marriage equality.

In January 2015, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear Obergefell v. Hodges, a consolidation of Jim's case with the cases of other plaintiffs from Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee. David Michener & William Herbert Ives, Robert Grunn, Nicole Yorksmith & Pamela Yorksmith, Joseph J. Vitale & Robert Talmas, Brittani Henry & Brittni Rogers, Kelly Noe & Kelly McCraken, Gregory Bourke & Michael DeLeon, Randell Johnson & Paul Campion, Jimmy Meade & Luther Barlowe, Kimberly Franklin & Tamera Boyd, Maurice Blanchard & Dominique James, Timothy Love & Lawrence Ysunza, Joy "Johno" Espejo & Matthew Mansell, Kellie Miller & Vanessa DeVillez, Sergeant Ijpe DeKoe & Thomas Kostura, Valeria Tanco & Sophia Jesty and April DeBoer & Jayne Rowse, were just some of the brave individuals and couples -- along with the ACLU, Lambda Legal, GLADD, NCLR, which provided co-counsel on this case.

Two years ago, in a historic sweeping ruling, the Supreme Court sided with loving, committed same-sex couples and found all bans on marriage equality to be unconstitutional - and that the fundamental right to marriage is a fundamental right for all. However, we are still far from full LGBTQ equality in the U.S. -- 50 percent of same-sex couples across the country are still at risk of being fired from their jobs by noon and evicted from their home by 2 p.m., simply for posting their wedding photos on Facebook.

In many states, LGBTQ people are at risk of being fired, denied housing, or refused service because of who they are. There is no federal law explicitly protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, and other important areas, and 31 states still lack fully-inclusive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

Discrimination is a real and persistent problem for far too many LGBTQ Americans, which is why the need for the Equality Act has never been more clear.

HRC urges Congress to pass the Equality Act, which was re-introduced in May with bipartisan support and unprecedented number of businesses to guarantee explicit, permanent protections for all Americans.