The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling announced Friday morning, approved same-sex marriage for residents in all 50 states. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” Kennedy wrote in an opinion joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonya Sotomayor and Elana Kagan.
“I was not surprised, but I was thrilled and moved and not a little relieved” after hearing the decision, said Evan Wolfson, the Squirrel Hill native and Harvard-trained attorney who in 2003 founded Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage equality nationwide.
Wolfson, who is generally considered the architect of the national marriage equality movement, has been in the trenches on the issue for 32 years.
“While I always believed we were going to win,” he said, “I’d been carrying this issue for a very long time, and as I was reading the decision, I realized that I was really ready for it to be now.”
The text of the majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, Wolfson said, was “extraordinarily powerful and resonant and will have a real impact going forward.”
He was particularly moved, he said, by “the way that Justice Kennedy talked not only about the importance of marriage, but also the importance of including gay people.”
Matt Nosanchuk, liaison to the American Jewish community through the White House Office of Public Engagement, arrived at the Supreme Court at 6:15 a.m. and sat among other lawyers when the decision was announced. As soon as it was known that Kennedy would be delivering the majority opinion, he realized that his hopes had come true.
Nosanchuk said he expected the court to rule in favor of marriage equality as he had “read, studied and taught” all the court’s previous rulings on gay rights and had even been in the court when those decisions had been announced.
Still, he was “thrilled it was such a complete and total victory” and that Kennedy based the decision on due process and equal protection.
Looking around, he noticed “tears of joy,” he said, adding, “I was moved. I recognized history was unfolding before my eyes.”
Nosanchuk chose not to miss any of Friday’s history-making day. He quickly went outside the courtroom to join in the celebration with others gathered on the court steps before rushing off to the White House’s Rose Garden to be present as President Barack Obama said, “Today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.”
Nosanchuk was one of many Jews celebrating Friday. Seventy-eight percent of Jewish Americans favor marriage equality, according to data collected in a 2014 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. Of that number, 47 percent strongly favor same-sex marriage.
After learning of the ruling, many Jewish organizations immediately expressed their joy. Both the Reform and Conservative movements employed phrases such as “moral victory,” “historic” and “a magnificent achievement for our country” in describing their reactions.
“Judaism teaches that every human being is created in the image of God,” said Rabbi Aaron Bisno, spiritual leader of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside, in an email. “Therefore, every individual is entitled to the same rights and privileges as every other person. The Supreme Court’s decision affirming the right of all citizens to be married equally under the law makes this basic value real in practice. As a rabbi, I am delighted with what this means for our society, and as a U.S. citizen, I celebrate how far we’ve come in making equality and the pursuit of happiness available to all.”
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said, “Today, the Supreme Court affirmed what has been clear for a long time: Same-sex couples deserve the same rights as opposite-sex couples.”
The ruling also “is about affirming the inherent dignity of same-sex couples and affirming that all people, regardless of whom they love, deserve the full protection of our Constitution,” Pesner added.
“As Jews, we believe we are all created in God’s image,” said Rabbi Hara Person, publisher and director of the Central Conference of American Rabbis Press. CCAR is Reform Judaism’s rabbinical leadership organization.
“All citizens of the United States should have the same rights” in financial, legal and other matters, said Person.
“I’m glad the Supreme Court upheld the biblical principle of equal dignity for all, since all are created in God’s image,” Rabbi Joseph Hample of Tree of Life Congregation in Morgantown wrote in an email. “Some Americans have religious objections to same-sex marriage, and they are entitled to their opinion. But as a religious minority, most Jews are grateful this country upholds separation of church and state. The Talmud says, ‘The law of the state is the law.’ A diverse society cannot be governed by the rules of one religion.
“My spouse is a nice Jewish boy from Baltimore,” Hample continued. “We were married in Los Angeles in 2008, just before Proposition 8 temporarily halted same-sex marriages in California. As Americans, as Reform Jews, Barry and I are delighted to be living in a society that fully validates our humanity.”
Matt Berger, senior adviser for strategic communications at Hillel International, said he stood among supportive friends and family when he was married to a man by two rabbis in a Jewish ceremony. Speaking on his behalf, he said the court’s decision “codifies what so many of us have always believed, which is that our relationships are absolutely equal and deserving of the same rights. The true victory is for those who have not been so lucky to be in such a supportive community.”
Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service and a strong advocate of gay rights all over the globe, said, “After decades of tireless work to advance the rights of LGBT people, I’m in awe and in tears that we’ve reached a day when dignity has triumphed over discrimination. As the mother of a lesbian daughter, and with many close LGBT relatives and friends, today’s historic Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality has huge personal significance for me, for my family and for so many of my friends and colleagues.”
While Friday was a day of celebration for American gays, Messinger pointed out that in 78 countries, members of the LGBTQ community face arrest, imprisonment or death “simply for who they are or whom they love.”
But not everyone supported the ruling, including the Orthodox Union, which noted that Judaism forbids homosexuality “in our Bible, Talmud and Codes.”
“Our religion is emphatic in defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. Our beliefs in this regard are unalterable,” the organization said in a statement.
However, the OU cautioned that “Judaism teaches respect for others, and we condemn discrimination against individuals.”
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonio Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
“The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie,” wrote Scalia.
Jim Campbell, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the ruling “stripped all Americans of our freedom to debate and decide marriage policy through the Democratic process.”
Members of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community expressed relief and joy following the announcement of the decision.
Deb Polk, a member of Bet Tikvah, Pittsburgh’s inclusive, Queer-centric, independent minyan, said she and her spouse were both “thrilled” with the decision.
“Each of us teared up,” she said. “It was very powerful and very moving. I never imagined that this would happen. For literally decades, it was not even on the table.”
But while freedom to marry is a significant achievement, there is still “more that needs to be done,” Polk observed.
Jodi Hirsh, founder of JustAction, a consulting service for non-profit and political organizations, and a member of the local LGBTQ community, agrees.
“The fight is not over by any means,” Hirsh said. “You can still be married on Friday, then fired on Monday.
“But the decision is a really good baseline for achieving rights,” Hirsh added. “What it means for [LGBTQ] kids growing up, to know they are growing up in a world where their achievable rights aren’t different from others will have a pretty pervasive effect on their psyches. That is a really big deal.”
State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-District 23), co-chair of the legislature’s LGBT Equality Caucus, while praising Friday’s decision, cautioned against losing sight of persisting acts of discrimination.
“We must not lose sight that it remains legal to deny our family, friends and neighbors jobs, housing or a public accommodation such as a restaurant table because of who they are,” Frankel wrote in a statement. “That is wrong [and] un-American, and about 70 percent of Pennsylvanians have agreed for years that we need laws against that type of discrimination.”
Freedom to Marry will be working in the coming months to ensure that the “marriage conversation” continues to go forward, particularly in regions of the country where the conversation is just now beginning, according to Wolfson, as the organization goes into a “smart strategic wind down.”
Because the work of the marriage equality campaign is over, he said, Freedom to Marry will close in the coming months.
“But the work of our movement is not over,” Wolfson explained. “The work is far from done.”
Toby Tabachnick is senior staff writer at The Jewish Chronicle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suzanne Pollak is a senior writer at the Washington Jewish Week. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Geoffrey W. Melada, interim editor of The Jewish Chronicle, contributed to this story.