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Court watchers long expected the court to rule in favor of marriage equality

Legal experts and LGBTQ advocates widely expected the Supreme Court to rule that states’ same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional — a decision that legalizes same-sex marriage across the US.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion that brought marriage equality to all 50 states, also wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Windsor,which struck down the federal ban on same-sex marriages in 2013 with a legal rationale that applied to states’ bans. He argued that the federal ban violated constitutional protections and discriminated against same-sex couples by preventing them from fully accessing “laws pertaining to Social Security, housing, taxes, criminal sanctions, copyright, and veterans’ benefits.”

Since a similar legal argument applied to state-level programs and benefits attached to marriage, and Kennedy appeared to invoke a similar argument in oral arguments, many court watchers expected Kennedy to rule against states’ same-sex marriage bans, as well.

Supreme Court LGBT
The Supreme Court, covered by an LGBTQ flag.
Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty Images

”The court was so focused on the tens of thousands of children being raised by same-sex parents and so sensitive to the ways those children are being disadvantaged and harmed and stigmatized,” Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said prior to the ruling. “It’s hard to see how those same considerations wouldn’t end up applying equally or even more forcefully to state marriage bans.”

Those considerations were particularly important, LGBTQ advocates argued, since the Supreme Court in October 2014 effectively legalized same-sex marriages in 11 states by refusing to hear appeals from cases originating in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

”It is almost inconceivable that having allowed so many couples to marry and so many families to gain the legal security and protection of marriage, the court would then roll back the clock,” Minter said. “That would be not only cruel but chaotic.”

Still, it was possible that the Supreme Court would not rule in favor of marriage equality. It could have handed down a limited ruling that forced states to recognize but not grant same-sex marriage licenses. It could also have upheld states’ same-sex marriage bans, which would have effectively reinstated bans in dozens of states and — potentially — rescinded the marriages of couples who were married between the time lower courts allowed their unions and the final Supreme Court decision.

But as the history indicated, some of the key members of the Supreme Court had been signaling for some time that they were prepared to make same-sex marriage rights the law of the land, leaving LGBTQ advocates and court watchers very optimistic.

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