Is Same-Sex Marriage Legal in All States? Despite Supreme Court Ruling, It's Complicated
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court Case ruled it unconstitutional for states to ban same-sex marriages in the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges. This meant that same-sex couples had the fundamental right to marriage in all 50 states.
But are all state legislatures abiding by this decision? Not quite.
Before Obergefell v. Hodges, there were 37 states that had already legalized same-sex marriages. These states were: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The District of Columbia also recognized same-sex marriage.
But other states had already placed statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act, before being struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, was a law that gave the federal definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Here are some instances where states refused to comply with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision:
On January 6, 2016, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said that judges in the state were under a court order to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples even though Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriages. He was suspended from his office and reinstated in May 2016.
In fact, 11 counties banned marriage licenses altogether so they wouldn't have to issue licenses to same-sex couples. These counties are: Autauga, Bibb, Choctaw, Clarke, Cleburne, Covington, Elmore, Geneva, Marengo, Pike, and Washington. The state law in Alabama allows county clerks to issue marriage licenses, but they're not required to do so. It wasn't until June 2016 when a U.S. District Judge issued a permanent injunction against Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage that they began complying with the Supreme Court decision.
In Kentucky, Kim Davis — a clerk in Rowan County — made headlines nationwide for refusing to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She also defied court orders by the governor and a federal district court order. On September 3, 2015, Davis was arrested and jailed for refusing the court order. Five days later, she was released from jail. On September 14, 2015, Davis returned to her county clerk office and still refused to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told county clerks and general magistrates that they did not have to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they felt it violated their religious beliefs. Paxton said the Supreme Court ruling was a "lawless decision" and that it was necessary for his role as attorney general to support the religious liberties of local officials whose job it was to issue marriage licenses.
On August 5, 2015, Paxton was scheduled for a contempt hearing by a U.S. district court judge for refusing to comply with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. The hearing was canceled when the judge ruled that Texas was fully complying with the Supreme Court's decision after they provided a death certificate that included the name of the spouse of gay man.
In Irion County, clerks have flat out refused to provide same-sex marriage licenses and haven't been challenged by any courts as of yet.
In Tennessee, David Fowler — a former conservative lawmaker and leader of Family Action Council — filed a lawsuit on February 5 against the Supreme Court's decision granting same-sex marriage across all 50 states as unconstitutional. He said that it should ultimately be up to state legislatures. He filed a similar lawsuit on January 21.
Same-sex marriage is now the law of the land across all 50 states. But if some local governments are made up of people who are anti-gay bigots, then how can we ever reach true marriage equality?