Rainbow flags are flying everywhere today, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (by the narrowest margin of 5-4) that same-sex couples across the country have an equal right to marry.
This decision, overruling a 1972 decision, is based firmly on the Constitution’s 14th Amendment and could only be undone by another formal amendment, or a change of mind by a future Supreme Court.
The Court did acknowledge that legalizing same-sex marriage won’t quiet the social and moral debate. Indeed, those who speak out against it will still be protected by the First Amendment’s free-speech rights.
From the SCOTUS blog:
Much of the ongoing debate will focus on claims that same-sex marriage will intrude on the religious rights of those whose faith tells them that the institution should be open only for opposite-sex couples. A number of legislatures already had begun anticipating Thursday’s rulings, passing measures to give businesses and others a legal right not to accommodate same-sex couples.
That’s despite a potential economic boon of $2.6 billion in spending by same-sex couples.
The ruling also doesn’t explicitly protect gay and lesbian employees who can still be fired for their sexuality in 29 states. Those who are transgender aren’t protected in 32 states. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has languished in Congress for more than 20 years, most recently when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stalled it because he felt it would be “the basis for frivolous lawsuits.” Earlier this year, Republican Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas issued an executive order that removed discrimination protections for state employees.
There is still a lot to celebrate: marriage confers more than 1,100 rights and responsibilities for a couple under the law, ranging from the custody of minor children and hospital-visitation rights, to how couples file their taxes. And there are repercussions for employers as well.
Michael Droke, a partner at the international law firm Dorsey and Whitney, and a former operations and human resources executive, says the SCOTUS ruling doesn’t affect many of the federal rights employees already enjoy, because those rights were protected under earlier rulings. “For example, the Federal Department of Labor recently amended the regulations regarding Family and Medical Leave in order to expand the definition of the word ‘spouse’ to include same-sex marriages,” Droke says.
He also points out that state-law rights that apply to married couples will now also apply to same-sex marriages, regardless of the laws in that particular state. “These include those laws covering benefits, leaves of absence, property rights, informational rights, and the like,” Droke says.
Droke says that the SCOTUS decision ends the discussion of whether same-sex marriage rights should apply in jurisdictions that had previously been closed to them. “Employers can have national policies on leaves of absence and similar issues without being required to justify the reasoning for these national policies with local management,” Droke says.
See Fast Company’s KC Ifeanyi’s celebrate the Supreme Court’s historic ruling: