Bourke v. Beshear
Issue: Does the Fourteenth Amendment require states to license or recognize same-sex marriages performed out-of-state?
Oral argument: April 28, 2015
The Supreme Court will rule on whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed out-of-state and to grant same-sex marriage licenses. Regarding the first issue, Petitioner James Obergefell argues that the Court’s 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor invalidates Ohio’s marriage-recognition laws, which Obergefell claims disadvantage and overburden same-sex couples and their families. Obergefell’s arguments regarding this issue are generally representative of those brought forth by the Petitioners in consolidated cases Tanco v. Haslam and Bourge v. Beshear. However, Respondent Richard Hodges—whose position generally aligns with the various Respondents in the consolidated cases Tanco v. Haslam and Bourge v. Beshear—counters that the Windsor Court did not interpret the Fourteenth Amendment to contemplate a “freestanding marriage-recognition right” and argues that a recognition right would undermine the democratic processes that led to the current legislation. On the second issue, Petitioner Deboer—from the consolidated case Deboer v. Snyder—argues that Due Process and the Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution require that states license same-sex marriage, and compels the Court to rule on this issue. The Respondent in Deboer, Governor Snyder, argues that nothing in the Fourteenth Amendment’s history or plain text meaning requires states to license same-sex marriage, nor does it compel the Court to rule on the issue. The Court’s ruling in these cases may affect the legal rights of children of same-sex couples, the rights of people who identify as gay, and the states’ sovereign right to enact legislation that defines the status of same-sex marriages within their borders.
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties
1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a State to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?
For twenty-two years, Petitioner James Obergefell and his late partner, John Arthur, lived together in a committed relationship in Cincinnati, Ohio until Arthur’s passing on October 22, 2013. On July 11, 2013, after John Arthur was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“ALS”)—a fatal and incurable disease that caused Arthur significant muscle deterioration—the couple traveled to Anne Arundel County, Maryland on a special jet equipped with medical devices that catered to Arthur’s medical condition. Obergefell and Arthur married inside of the jet as it was parked on a Maryland tarmac. That same day, the newly married couple returned to Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2013, Obergefell and Arthur’s same-sex marriage was legally recognized in Maryland and by the federal government as confirmed by the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor. However, Ohio state laws—Ohio Rev. Code § 3101.01 (C)(2), Ohio Rev. Code § 3101.01 (C)(3), and Ohio Constitution Art. XV, § 11—forbids same-sex marriage. Following Arthur’s passing, and in accordance with Ohio law, Arthur’s death record (1) failed to record Obergefell as Arthur’s “surviving spouse” and (2) listed Arthur as “unmarried” at the time of his death.
In 2013, Obergefell filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio (“district court”) against Respondent Richard Hodges, Director of the Ohio Department of Health. Obergefell argued that Ohio laws that failed to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages were unconstitutional and asked that the Registrar of Ohio issue death certificates recording Obergefell as Arthur’s “surviving spouse” and listing John Arthur