Now that that Supreme Court has determined that “[t]he Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex,” how will the Court’s decision impact religious organizations and individuals? According to the four dissenting justices, the ruling means trouble ahead for religious organizations and individuals with conflicting religious beliefs. In particular, the ruling portends new court battles between their constitutional religious liberty interests and developing laws that provide increasing sexual orientation and gender identity (“SOGI”) protection in areas such as employment, education, facility usage, and housing.
In Obergefell, a majority of five Justices determined that same-sex couples have a “fundamental right to marry,” arising out of liberty protections under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. In so ruling, the Court reversed the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling that states may define “marriage” as they wish. Instead the Court sided with other federal courts that ruled unconstitutional state laws that limited marriage to unions between one man and one woman.
Speaking for the majority, Justice Kennedy only briefly touched on religious liberty considerations, saying, “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.” Notably, there was mention of neither religious exercise, as guaranteed under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, nor broader protections to be recognized for faith-based organizations beyond churches.