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#FlashbackFriday: Three Years Since Marriage Equality Cases First Heard at the Supreme Court

by Hayley Miller March 25, 2016

This weekend, we mark three years since oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry and Windsor v. United States were heard at the Supreme Court.

Over the past decade, dozens of cases were filed in court to fight for marriage equality and same-sex plaintiff couples across the nation put their privacy on the line. State-by-state, groups of people organized campaigns in favor of marriage equality.

In 2013, two cases made it to the Supreme Court: Hollingsworth v. Perry, challenging California’s Prop 8 that banned marriage for same-sex couples, and Windsor v. U.S., challenging the federal government’s ban on recognizing legally married same-sex couples.

As the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in these cases, a modified red version of HRC's iconic logo went viral on social media. Millions of people acted in support of loving, committed same-sex couples, harnessing the passion that supporters of equality felt about the issue.

In 2009, two same-sex couples – Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo – filed suit against California in federal court, arguing that California’s Proposition 8 violated the U.S. Constitution by denying them a fundamental right and depriving them of equal protection under the law. Prop 8 had passed at the ballot the previous November, stripping same-sex couples of the right to marry in California. Attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies represented the couples. The American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), an organization co-founded by HRC President Chad Griffin, also supported the case.

Just two years prior, Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer were married after more than 40 years of partnership.

The couple wanted to marry in their home state of New York, but as Thea’s health took a turn for the worse, they flew to Toronto to get married.

When Thea died 21 months later, the federal government didn’t recognize their marriage. Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Edie was denied the rights of lawfully married couples. At the height of her grief, Edie found herself facing a $363,000 estate tax bill.

Represented by Robbie Kaplan, Edie’s fight for equality made it’s way to the Supreme Court.

When the rulings were handed down on June 26, 2013, marriage equality was returned to California and section 3 of DOMA was overturned. The nation celebrated online using HRC’s viral red logo and HRC continued to work tirelessly to educate the public about what these rulings meant for LGBT couples and families in California and across the U.S.

Between the Court’s ruling in 2013 and oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges last year, over 80 marriage equality cases made their way through the judicial system across the country.With brave plaintiff couples in all 50 states taking their cases to the courts, we were able to achieve nationwide marriage equality on June 26, 2015.

The decisions made by the Supreme Court establish important legal precedents that impact the daily lives of all Americans, including those who are LGBT.

Over the past 25 years, the LGBT community in particular has benefited from groundbreaking decisions from the court, including Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas, U.S. v. Windsor, and Obergefell v. Hodges--the latter of which ushered in nationwide marriage equality last June. Notably, each ruling was decided by a razor-thin margin. While each has bettered the lives of millions of Americans, during that same time there have been tremendously disappointing rulings, such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Shelby County v. Holder, that have been both far-reaching and harmful to a great many more people across our country.

Before the Supreme Court’s rulings, same-sex couples around the country waited years to marry the one they love. Brave plaintiff couples raised awareness of LGBT issues and even brought marriage equality to a vote on several occasions. It didn’t just take years. It took decades to make this a reality.

This weekend, we celebrate and recognize these couples, advocates, organizations and families who helped make marriage equality the law of the land.

Hayley Miller
Hayley Miller


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