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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Philosophers Discuss Supreme Court Ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges reveals a lack of clarity as to what marriage is. The Court's language suggests that the equality of civil unions requires calling two distinct things by the same name: marriage.

Civil partnerships of same-sex couples and male-female marriage are now on the same legal footing in all 50 states. That does not mean they are the same thing, however. We have yet to see how the courts, U.S. corporations, the media, etc. will hold these distinct entities in balance. Will the balance tilt toward the equality of unequal pigs described by George Orwell?

The Supreme Court decision breaks with international precedent. Other countries call the same-sex legal arrangement a "partnership" or a "pact" and in these nations the issue was resolved much more quickly and justly. There was never the confusion about how marriage is properly defined.

Norway has had "registered partnerships" since 1993.

Sweden has called them "registered partnerships" since 1994.

Hungary and Iceland have had "registered partnerships" since 1996.

France has called them “civil solidarity pacts” since 1999.

In Denmark “registered partnerships” were first recognized in 1998 as an alternative to marriage and an option for heterosexual couples. Adoption by homosexual couples was approved in 2000.

The Netherlands, Finland and Germany have had "registered partnerships" since 2001.

It is clear that gay and lesbian couples deserve spousal benefits. The majority of Americans are for fairness. However, the legal waters are muddy and there will be more law suits.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated that hundreds of public officials in Texas were seeking guidance on how to implement what he called a flawed decision by an "activist" court. Thousands of county clerks in Texas who object to gay marriage can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, because while the Supreme Court justices had "fabricated" a new constitutional right, they did not in Paxton's legal opinion diminish, overrule, or call into question the First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion.

County clerks are elected officials. Many will refuse to issue licenses out of respect for the views of those who put them in office. Some will refuse on religious grounds to issue "marriage" licenses for same-sex couples. There will be more law suits.

The following philosophers have written brief comments about the Supreme Court decision:

Elizabeth Brake (Arizona State)
Cheshire Calhoun (Arizona State)
Clare Chambers (Cambridge)
John Corvino (Wayne State)
Brook Sadler (South Florida)
Edward Stein (Cardozo)
Kevin Vallier (Bowling Green).

Read what these philosophers have to say here.

Related reading:  Native American Tribes Ban Gay Marriage


  1. Marriage is a legal partnership between two individuals previously regulated by the states, but now regulated and defined as a civil and human right by federal law.

  2. The States still retain right to issue licenses. The licenses will likely not say "marriage" any longer.