Since the US Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on same-sex marriages in June 2013, lower courts have ruled overwhelmingly in favor of same-sex couples' right to marry.
The substance of these decisions have mostly relied on the same legal rationale as the Supreme Court: the Constitution's Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses protect same-sex marriage rights. But in justifying their decisions, federal and state judges have engaged in what at times seems like a competition to get the best word on the issue of same-sex marriage. Here are some of the best quotes from those decisions, in no particular order.
1) Seventh Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner, in the September 4 opinion against Wisconsin and Indiana's same-sex marriage bans: "The harm to homosexuals (and, as we'll emphasize, to their adopted children) of being denied the right to marry is considerable. Marriage confers respectability on a sexual relationship; to exclude a couple from marriage is thus to deny it a coveted status. Because homosexuality is not a voluntary condition and homosexuals are among the most stigmatized, misunderstood, and discriminated-against minorities in the history of the world, the disparagement of their sexual orientation, implicit in the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples, is a source of continuing pain to the homosexual community."
2) US District Judge Robert Hinkle, in the August 21 opinion against Florida's same-sex marriage ban: "It was 1967, nearly two centuries after the Constitution was adopted, before the Supreme Court struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage, thus protecting the liberty of individuals whose chosen life partner was of a different race. Now, nearly 50 years later, the arguments supporting the ban on interracial marriage seem an obvious pretext for racism; it must be hard for those who were not then of age to understand just how sincerely those views were held. When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination. Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held."
3) Fourth Circuit Court Judge Henry Floyd, in the July 28 opinion against Virginia's same-sex marriage ban: "We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security."
4) US District Judge John Heyburn, in the July 1 opinion against Kentucky's same-sex marriage ban: "Sometimes, by upholding equal rights for a few, courts necessarily must require others to forebear some prior conduct or restrain some personal instinct. Here, that would not seem to be the case. Assuring equal protection for same-sex couples does not diminish the freedom of others to any degree. Thus, same-sex couples' right to marry seems to be a uniquely 'free' constitutional right. Hopefully, even those opposed to or uncertain about same-sex marriage will see it that way in the future."
5) 10th Circuit Court Judge Carlos Lucero, in the June 25 opinion against Utah's same-sex marriage ban: "Not until contemporary times have laws stigmatizing or even criminalizing gay men and women been felled, allowing their relationships to surface to an open society. As the district court eloquently explained, 'it is not the Constitution that has changed, but the knowledge of what it means to be gay or lesbian.' … Consistent with our constitutional tradition of recognizing the liberty of those previously excluded, we conclude that plaintiffs possess a fundamental right to marry and to have their marriages recognized."
6) US District Judge Richard Young, in the June 25 opinion against Indiana's same-sex marriage ban: "In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as a marriage — not a same-sex marriage. These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such. Today, the 'injustice that [we] had not earlier known or understood' ends."
7) US District Judge Barbara Crabb, in the June 6 opinion against Wisconsin's same-sex marriage ban: "Perhaps it is true that the Wisconsin legislature and voters would choose to repeal the marriage amendment and amend the statutory marriage laws to be inclusive of same-sex couples at some point in the future. Perhaps it is also true that, if the courts had refused to act in the 1950s and 1960s, eventually all states would have voted to end segregation and repeal anti-miscegenation laws. Regardless, a district court may not abstain from deciding a case because of a possibility that the issues raised in the case could be resolved in some other way at some other time."
8) US District Judge John Jones, in the May 20 opinion against Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban: "We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history."
9) US District Judge Michael McShane, in the May 19 opinion against Oregon's same-sex marriage ban: "Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other … and rise."
10) US District Court Magistrate Candy Dale, in the May 13 opinion against Idaho's same-sex marriage ban: "The Plaintiffs are entitled to extraordinary remedies because of their extraordinary injuries. Idaho's Marriage Laws withhold from them a profound and personal choice, one that most can take for granted. By doing so, Idaho's Marriage Laws deny same-sex couples the economic, practical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of marriage, relegating each couple to a stigmatized, second-class status. Plaintiffs suffer these injuries not because they are unqualified to marry, start a family, or grow old together, but because of who they are and whom they love."
11) US District Judge Terence Kern, in the January 14 opinion against Oklahoma's same-sex marriage ban: "The Bishop couple has been in a loving, committed relationships for many years. They own property together, wish to retire together, wish to make medical decisions for one another, and wish to be recognized as a married couple with all its attendant rights and responsibilities. Part A of the Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment excludes the Bishop couple, and all otherwise eligible same- sex couples, from this privilege without a legally sufficient justification."
12) Judge Robert Shelby, in the December 20 opinion against Utah's same-sex marriage ban: "In his dissenting opinion [of the Supreme Court decision that struck down the federal ban on same-sex marriage], the Honorable Antonin Scalia recognized that this result was the logical outcome of the Court’s ruling in Windsor: 'In my opinion, however, the view that this Court will take of state prohibition of same-sex marriage is indicated beyond mistaking by today's opinion. As I have said, the real rationale of today's opinion … is that [the federal ban on same-sex marriages] is motivated by 'bare … desire to harm' couples in same-sex marriages. How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status.' The court agrees with Justice Scalia’s interpretation of Windsor. ... And Justice Scalia even recommended how this court should interpret the Windsor decision when presented with the question that is now before it."