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Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)

Last Updated: 2018

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) is commonly referred to as the same-sex marriage case that legalized same-sex marriage at the federal level in the United States. While this is true, it is more accurate to state that the Supreme Court decision determined that it is unconstitutional for a state to refuse giving a marriage license to a same-sex couple (Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015).

Multiple cases appealed within the district of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals were rolled together and styled Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). The states included in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals are Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee (United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit). Each preceding case dealt with harm experienced by same-sex couples as a consequence of not having access to the institution of marriage.

In Michigan, Deboer v. Snyder (2014) involved the plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who sought joint adoption of their three children. At the time, the Michigan law stated that adoption rights were reserved exclusively for married couples (Deboer v. Snyder, 2014). Without access to marriage, the couple had restricted rights, which prompted them to sue the state.

In Ohio, Obergefell v. Kasich (2014), plaintiffs John Arthur and James Obergefell were prevented from listing Obergefell as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. The couple made the request after John Arthur was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Although the couple was legally married in Maryland, Ohio refused to authenticate the death certificate.

In Kentucky, couple Gregory Bourke and Michael DeLeon travelled to Canada to be legally married and Kentucky refused to recognize the union. In Bourke v. Beshear (2014), the couple joined with several other similarly situated couples and filed against the state. A similar case filed in Tennessee, Tanco v. Haslam (2014), included three same-sex couples who all obtained legal marriage licenses outside of the state and returned. When Tennessee failed to recognize their marriage licenses, the couples sued the state.

In each case, the couple or couples sued their respective state on the grounds of discrimination, challenging the constitutionality of each state’s laws reserving marriage as a right to opposite-sex couples. In each of the above cases, the lower courts favored the plaintiffs over state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Each of the above-mentioned cases appealed to the 6th Circuit court of Appeals, which reversed all of the lower court decisions thus finding in favor of state law and against gay rights and same-sex marriage.

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) included the plaintiffs from all of the previous cases and appealed the decisions of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The new case questioned the constitutionality of a state’s refusal to recognize marriage between same-sex couples under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Constitution, Amendment XIV). The equal protection clause provides that all citizens are subject to equal protection under the law. Thus, the major questions asked by SCOTUS were whether or not states were constitutionally obligated to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples and whether or not states were required to recognize out-of-state licenses (Obergefell v. Hodges, 2014).

During the case, SCOTUS received a record-breaking 149 amicus curiae briefs (American Bar Association, 2018). Organizations submit amicus briefs, or friends-of-the-court briefs, in order to sway the judges in a court towards the interests of the organization. Of those briefs, 77 argued that same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional, 67 argued that same-sex marriage bans are constitutional, and 5 made other types of arguments (Robson). Based on the number of amicus briefs filed, Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) was a strongly contested Supreme Court Case.

The Supreme Court Justices, in a 5-4 decision, determined that same-sex couples are entitled to marriage licenses based on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision also overturned a previous case, Baker v. Nelson (1971), which determined that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples was constitutional.

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) continues the individual rights revolution and centralization of morality policy that displaces state police powers. The decision also promoted gay rights and nationalized the right for same-sex couples to access marriage, which created increased equality for same-sex couples (Yoshino, 2015).


Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, American Bar Association, (, 2018); Baker v. Nelson (291 Minn. 310, 191 N.W. 2d 185., 1971); Bourke v. Beshear (996 F. Supp. 2d 542, 2014); Deboer v. Snyder (772 F. 3d 388, 2014); Obergefell v. Hodges (576 U.S. _____, 2015).; Obergefell v. Kasich (772 F.3d 388, Federal Court of Appeals, 2014).; Tanco v. Haslam (7 F. Supp. 3d 759, 2014); Ruthann Robson, “Guide to the Amicus Briefs in Obergefell v. Hodges: The Same-Sex Marriage Cases,” Constitutional Law Blog, (retrieved from, April 16, 2015); United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, (retrieved from, 2018).;Kenji Yoshino, “A Birth of New Freedom:? Obergefell v. Hodges,” Harvard Law Review, 129(1), (2015): 147-179.