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Today In History: A Look Back at Four Pivotal Supreme Court Cases for LGBTQ Equality

by Emily Simeral Roberts June 26, 2016

On Sunday, June 26, people across the United States will commemorate the one-year anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic Supreme Court case that made marriage equality the law of the land and bettered the lives of millions of people who are now free to marry the one they love.

Over the past few decades, brave LGBTQ plaintiffs from around the nation have stood up for their civil rights by filing cases with the Supreme Court to securing their fundamental liberties. June 26 is a day that will remain in the history books as four pivotal cases were decided on this date over a span of 13 years.

HRC takes a look back at these instrumental SCOTUS cases to recognize and honor the hard work of the couples, advocates, organizations and supporters who helped change history.

Lawrence v. Texas (2003)

Lawrence v. Texas was the landmark case in 2003 that struck down Texas’ sodomy law - and in turn invalidated sodomy laws in 13 other states - making private, consensual, adult sexual activity between same-sex couples legal across the U.S.

This case laid the groundwork for much of the tremendous progress we’ve seen over the last several years, and serves as a reminder of how much has been accomplished within the LGBTQ community. By ridding our country of this extreme persecution of LGBTQ people under the law, the narrative around equality was forever changed.

United States v. Windsor (2013)

After more than 40 years together, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were legally married in Toronto, Canada in 2007. Their marriage was officially recognized in New York in 2008 when their home state ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. When Thea died in 2009, she left her entire estate to Edie. However, Edie was barred from claiming the federal estate tax exemptions for surviving spouses under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that prohibited the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples, and as a result was faced with a $363,000 estate tax bill.

Windsor, represented by Robbie Kaplan, took her case to the Supreme Court, challenging the government’s ban on recognizing legally married same-sex couples. Edie came away victorious as section 3 of DOMA was overturned.

On that same day...

Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013)

In 2009, two same-sex couples, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, filed suit against the state of 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, a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, 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, and marriage equality was returned to the Golden State.

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)

In 2013, Jim Obergefell and his partner of 20 years John Arthur - who was in Hospice care and confined to a hospital bed due to ALS - heard the news of the Windsor decision and flew from Cincinnati, Ohio to Baltimore, Maryland for a quick wedding ceremony on a medical jet. Jim and John’s home state of Ohio did not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, and as such Jim was not listed was not listed on John’s death certificate after he passed away. Seeking recognition of their marriage, Jim took his fight to the highest court in the land. His case was consolidated with cases from three other states: Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.

One year ago, in a historic sweeping ruling, the Supreme Court sided with loving, committed same-sex couples and found all bans on marriage equality to be unconstitutional - and that the fundamental right to marriage is a fundamental right for all.

While these cases certainly prompt positive reflection, they also remind us how far we have to go and that the time has come for full federal equality - nothing more, nothing less.

historic day for marriage equality

Emily Simeral Roberts
Emily Simeral Roberts


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