Obergefell v. Hodges is a landmark civil rights case that made same-sex marriage the law of the land in the United States. To be specific, on 26 June 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantee the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry.
Note that were six federal district court cases or lawsuits and relevant decisions at the state level that subsequently lead to Obergefell v. Hodges being tackled in the Supreme Court. Hence, these six cases were all part of the historical decision that served as an important milestone in the civil rights movement and specific LGBT movement in the United States.
In History: Six Cases in Federal District Courts Leading to Obergefell v. Hodges in Supreme Court
1. DeBoer v. Snyder Case in Michigan
This case came from Michigan and it involved couples April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, and their three children. The female couple had a commitment ceremony in February 2007 and became foster parents later in their relationship. Rowse adopted a 10-month-old male infant in November 2009 and DeBoer adopted a 14-month-old female toddler in April 2011. Rowse further adopted an almost-two-year-old male toddler in October 2011.
The problem stems from the fact that Michigan law allowed adoption only by a single individual or married couples, thus the state does not recognize them as married couples because it does not recognize same-sex marriage. DeBoer and Rowse filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on 23 January 2012.
Note that their lawsuit alleged that the Michigan adoption law was unconstitutional. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman suggested amending the complaint. He expressed concern over the cause of action of DeBoer and Rowse, thus suggesting they amend their complaint and focus on challenging the state of Michigan in its ban on same-sex marriage.
The couple amended their complaint in September 2012. The trial ended on 7 March 2014, and Friedman ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on 21 March of the same. He argued that “without some overriding legitimate interest, the state cannot use its domestic relations authority to legislate families out of existence” and that Michigan failed to establish such an interest in the context of same-sex marriage, thereby arguing that the state marriage ban cannot stand.
2. Obergefell v. Wymyslo Case in Ohio
In Obergefell v. Kasich, married couple James “Jim” Obergefell and John Arthur filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on 19 July 2013 after learning that Ohio, their state of residence did not recognize their marriage. Note that the two were married in Maryland on 11 July 2013. Their complaint alleged that Ohio discriminated against same-sex couples who have married lawfully out-of-state.
Note that the couple wanted their state of residence to recognize their marriage, especially because Arthur was terminally and suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. To be specific, Arthur demanded Ohio Registrar identify Obergefell as his surviving spouse on his death certificate based on their marriage in Maryland.
The Ohio Registrar agreed that it was unconstitutional to discriminate against same-sex marriage. However, the Office of the State Attorney General pronounced its intention to defend the same-sex marriage ban in the state of Ohio. Ohio Governor John Kasich was the lead defendant and Attorney General Mike DeWine represented the state.
Obergefell and Arthur filed a motion to temporarily restrain the Ohio Registrar from accepting any death certificates unless it recorded the status of the deceased at death as “married” and his partner as the “surviving spouse.” District Judge Timothy S. Black granted the motion and also wrote that Ohio law has been clear that a marriage solemnized outside the state remains valid in Ohio if it is valid where it was solemnized.
Another plaintiff was added to the case. To be specific, it involved David Michener whose husband, William Ives, died unexpectedly on 27 August 2013 in Cincinnati Ohio. The two were married in Delaware earlier on 22 July of the same year. They also had three adoptive children. As the surviving spouse, Michener sought to have his name written on the death certificate of Ives. However, the Ohio Registrar could not do so at the moment.
Michener sought legal remedy on 3 September 2013 and was later added as a plaintiff in the Obergefell case. The amended case moved forward. Furthermore, Black granted the motion to dismiss the governor and the state attorney general as defendants and added funeral director Robert Grunn to the lawsuit to obtain legal clarification under Ohio law.
Grunn was removed and substituted by Ohio Health Department Director Theodore Wymyslo as the lead defendant. The case was restyle Obergefell v. Wymyslo. Black ruled on 23 December that the refusal of Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages from other states was discriminatory and ordered the state to recognize these marriages on death certificates.
In his decision, the district judge wrote, “When a state effectively terminates the marriage of a same-sex couple married in another jurisdiction, it intrudes into the realm of private marital, family, and intimate relations specifically protected by the Supreme Court.” Note that John Arthur died earlier on 22 October 2013.
3. Henry v. Himes Case in Ohio
Another case in Ohio also initially involved Theodore Wymyslo. It involved four couples, a child, and an adoption agency. The first couple was represented by Georgia Nicole Yorksmith and Pamela Yorksmith who were married in California in 2008 and had a son in 2010 while also expecting another child. Kelly Noe and Kelly McCraken were the second couple who were married in Massachusetts in 2011. Both were also expecting a child.
The third couple was represented by J. Vitale and Robert Talmas. They were married in New York in 2011 and sought the services of the adopted service agency Adoption S.T.A.R. in 2013. They finally adopted a son in 2014. Brittani Henry and Brittni Rogers were the fourth couple married in New York in 2014 and were also expecting a son.
Note that the Yorksmiths, Noe and McCraken, and Henry and Rogers were living in Ohio. Henry and Rogers were residents of New York but their adopted son was born in Ohio in 2013. The four couples filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on 10 February 2014. The son of Henry and Rogers was named as the plaintiff.
The case was styled Henry v. Wymyslo. The lawsuit demanded the state list both names of the parents on the birth certificates of the involved children. Noted that Adoption S.T.A.R. also sued Ohio due to the alleged additional and inadequate service the state law forced it to render to same-sex coupled who wished to adopt in the state.
Note that the plaintiffs later amended their case to focus on arguing that the existing ban on same-sex marriage in Ohio was unconstitutional. The case was later restyled Henry v. Himes following the resignation of Wymyslo as by Ohio Health Department Director. District Judge Black ruled on 14 April 2014 that Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages from other states or jurisdictions, thus reiterating his previous decision in Obergefell v. Wymyslo.
4. Bourke v. Beshear Case in Kentucky
Two cases were filed in Kentucky to challenge its ban on same-sex marriage and argue for the recognition of same-sex marriages made in other jurisdictions. The first case involved four couples and their six children. The first couple were Gregory Bourke and Michael DeLeon who were married in Canada in 2004 and had two children. The second couple were Randell Johnson and Paul Campion married who were in California in 2008 and had four children.
Jimmy Meade and Luther Barlowe were the third couple. They were married in Iowa in 2009. Kimberly Franklin and Tamera Boyd were the fourth couple who were married in Connecticut in 2010. All plaintiffs were residents of Kentucky. They filed Bourke v. Beshear on 26 July 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.
The case was amended on 16 August to add Johnson and Campion, and their four children as plaintiffs. It was amended further on 1 November to bring in Franklin and Boyd. Note that Franklin and Boyd filed a similar case style as Franklin v. Beshear was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
Nevertheless, on 12 February 2014, District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. He explained that the denial of Kentucky to recognize valid same-sex marriages violated the guarantee of equal protection under the United States Constitution, even under the most deferential standard of review. He added that the state statutes and constitutional amendments that mandate such denial were unconstitutional.
5. Love v. Beshear Case in Kentucky
In Love v. Beshear, two married couples Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James, and Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky on 14 February 2014 to join the Bourke v. Beshear case. Their motion was granted on 247 February, thus dividing the trial into two parts through bifurcation.
Note that Blanchard and James had a religious marriage ceremony on 3 June 2006. However, despite repeated attempts, numerous Kentucky county clerks refused to grant them marriage licenses. Love and Lawrence also sought to secure a marriage license on 13 February 2014 at the clerk’s office of Jefferson County but were refused one. The two had been living together as a couple for 13 years when they tried to secure a marriage license.
The case was instantly stylized as Love v. Beshear. Judge Heyburn decided on 1 July 2014. He argued that “homosexual person constitute a quasi-suspect class” and ruled that the laws in Kentucky banning same-sex marriage were void and unenforceable because they violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
6. Tanco v. Haslam Case in Tennessee
Four same-sex couples who were married out-of-state filed a lawsuit United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee to have the state government of Tennessee recognize their out-of-state marriages. The first couple was represented by Joy “Johno” Espejo and Matthew Mansell who were married in California in 2008 and adopted two foster children in 2009. Their family moved to Franklyn, Tennessee in May 2012 due to a job relocation.
Kellie Miller and Vanessa DeVillez who were married in New York in 2011 and later moved to Tennessee represented the second couple. The third couple were Army Reservist Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thomas Kostura who were married in New York in 2011. The Department of Defense began recognizing their marriage on 3 September 2013.
Note that DeKoe and Kostura relocated from New York after the former completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan and was restationed in Memphis, Tennessee. Valeria Tanco and Sophia Jesty represented the fourth couple. They were married in New York in 2011 and moved to Tennessee to pursue their careers as university professors. Nevertheless, all four couples filed a lawsuit on 13 October 2013 that was stylized Tanco v. Haslam.
Then Tennessee Governor William Edwards Haslam was the lead defendant. The plaintiffs requested a preliminary injunction to enjoin Tennessee from applying its marriage recognition ban against the. Miller and DeVillez withdrew from the case on 10 March 2014. District Judge Aleta Arthur Trauger granted the preliminary injunction on 14 March.
Her decision essentially required the state to recognize the marriages of the three plaintiff couples. She wrote,” At this point, all signs indicate that, in the eyes of the United States Constitution, the plaintiffs’ marriages will be placed on an equal footing with those of heterosexual couples and that proscriptions against same-sex marriage will soon become a footnote in the annals of American history.”
Note that Tennessee filed a motion to stay the ruling, thus attempting to make same-sex marriage in Tennessee recognized. However, Trauger denied the motion and said that the court order “does not open the floodgates for same-sex couples to marry in Tennessee…applies only to the three same-sex couples at issue in this case.”
Aftermath: Reversal by the Sixth Circuit and the Subsequent Supreme Court Review and Decision on Obergefell v. Hodges
The six cases were appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and underwent several consolidations resulting in four cases. On 6 November 2014, in a decision styled as DeBoer v. Snyder, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled 2-1 that the ban on same-sex marriage in Ohio did not violate the U.S. Constitution.
Note that this decision caused a circuit split because other Circuit Courts held different decisions that argued for the recognition of same-sex marriage. These circuits were the Tenth, Fourth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits. The split triggered a Supreme Court review.
The Supreme Court consolidated the four cases on 16 January 2015 and it was stylized as Obergefell v. Hodges. Oral arguments were heard beginning on April 28 of the same year. Nevertheless, on 26 June 2015, the Court voted 5-4 and ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires all states to grant same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states or jurisdictions.
Obergefell v. Hodges subsequently became a landmark civil rights case in the United States. It effectively legalized same-sex marriage across the country and barred states from passing laws or ordinances that would discriminate against same-sex couples.