Love wins: Supreme Court strikes down bans on same-sex marriage, sending nationwide marriage equality into effect

The wait is over—marriage equality has finally arrived in America.

The United States Supreme Court declared today marriage is blind to sexual orientation, holding in Obergefell v. Hodges that “same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry” after finding state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has become the Court’s mouthpiece for the gay rights movement, spoke for the Court in his 5-4 majority opinion:

“The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

The 13 states still forbidding same-sex marriages at the time of the decision will join the other 37 states in licensing marriages to same-sex couples. By declaring the state statutes and constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional, the United States became the 21st country in the world to grant marriage equality.

The path to marriage equality in America was paved by a number of Supreme Court cases: Loving v. Virginia (holding that interracial couples have the right to marriage)(1967), Romer v. Evans (striking down an anti-gay state constitutional amendment)(1996), Lawrence v. Texas (declaring a state statute criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct unconstitutional)(2003), and United States v. Windsor (finding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional)(2013).

Justice Kennedy, who also penned the Lawrence, Romer, and Windsor opinions, closed his decision in Obergefell with a precedent-setting proclamation in this paramount case:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.”

The Obergefell decision comes after thousands of gay Americans have patiently waited to consummate their love, forge a dignified bond with their partner, and earn equal protection under the laws. Opening marriage to same-sex couples allows gay Americans to receive benefits such as hospital visitation, the choice of filing a joint tax return, family health coverage, among many others.

Most importantly, gay unions will no longer be treated as second-class relationships. No longer will children of same-sex couples have to wonder about the relationship status of their parents—they can now be children of a legally married couple.

Today’s statement by our nation’s highest court sends a reverberating message of love and acceptance for gay Americans across the 50 states. The Obergefell decision will be remembered as a landmark day for equality in America. Love has won.

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FDA ban on gay blood donors challenged in federal court

Donating blood is a simple way to give back to the community. It’s a nice gesture in which one person makes a minimum sacrifice for the greater good of society. But not all are welcome to take part in this act of kindness. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expressly bans blood donations from gay men. The FDA’s policy states:

“Men who have had sex with other men at any time since 1977 (the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States) are currently deferred as blood donors.”

The FDA claims this policy is in place because men who have had sex with men are at an increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B, and other infections that can be transmitted by blood transfusion. But the American Red Cross tests and screens every unit of donated blood for various infectious diseases, including HIV and hepatitis B. Therefore, the ban is not serving any legitimate purpose. It only singles out a class of citizens and reinforces outdated stereotypes about gay men.

Two weeks ago, 19-year-old Caleb Laieski sued the FDA  in a Virginia federal court, challenging its policy. Laieski claims the government is discriminating against a class of citizens in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, among other claims. He relies on precedence from the United States Supreme Court cases of Romer v. EvansLawrence v. TexasLoving v. Virginia, and United States v. Windsor.

Laieski’s complaint quotes United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy from Lawrence: “They knew times could blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress.” Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 579 (2003). Kennedy’s words seem applicable to the FDA’s policy.

Barring gay men from donating blood may have seemed prudent in the 1980s and 90s. But years later, science has advanced, and this discriminatory policy is no longer necessary. It only serves to trigger old stereotypes that America is ready to move past in 2014. We will see if the Virginia court agrees.

UPDATE – 12/22/16: Lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men has been dropped, but FDA still bars donations from men who have had sex with men within the previous year (link here).