The Supreme Court declared Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States.
Gay and lesbian couples already can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The court's 5-4 ruling means the remaining 14 states, in the South and Midwest, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.
The outcome is the culmination of two decades of Supreme Court litigation over marriage, and gay rights generally.
- SCOTUSblog.com: Read a LIVE blog of the court's decision on same-sex marriage
- Justice Kennedy: There is a right to marriage equality (.pdf)
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, just as he did in the court's previous three major gay rights cases dating back to 1996. It came on the anniversary of two of those earlier decisions.
"No union is more profound than marriage," Kennedy wrote, joined by the court's four more liberal justices.
The ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration. But some state officials and county clerks might decide there is little risk in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The cases before the court involved laws from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Those states have not allowed same-sex couples to marry within their borders and they also have refused to recognize valid marriages from elsewhere.
Just two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law that denied a range of government benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
The decision in United States v. Windsor did not address the validity of state marriage bans, but courts across the country, with few exceptions, said its logic compelled them to invalidate state laws that prohibited gay and lesbian couples from marrying.
The number of states allowing same-sex marriage has grown rapidly. As recently as October, just over one-third of the states permitted same-sex marriage.
There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to UCLA's Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans. Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says. Roughly 1 million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the United States, the institute says.
The Obama administration backed the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Justice Department's decision to stop defending the federal anti-marriage law in 2011 was an important moment for gay rights and President Barack Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage in 2012.
Legal reaction to Supreme Court ruling
One of the most outspoken critics of this Supreme Court ruling compared it to another landmark ruling, claiming Justices will be forced to revisit this time and time again.
But not everyone agrees.
"This is the Roe v. Wade of marriage. They have forced the definition of marriage upon the entire country," said John Stemberger with Florida Family Research Council.
"I don't think this is the same thing as Roe v. Wade," said attorney Wade Vose. "I don't see the court coming back in five years or 10 years to revisiting whether or not same sex marriages should be allowed."
Lawmakers respond to Supreme Court's decision
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida): "Today's ruling reaffirms one of the paramount principles of America that we're all created equal and have the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness."
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa): "Today, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that equal rights are fundamental to our American values and our nation can now turn the page on a patchwork of discriminatory state laws that have blocked marriage equality. It is a great day for this historic announcement in Tampa Bay as we kick off our annual LGBT Pride Parade, one of the largest in Florida.
"It is truly a historic step forward — all loving couples who make a lifetime commitment to each other should be recognized no matter where they live, move or travel to throughout the country.
"In my community and throughout my home state of Florida we have fought resolutely for equal rights. It is clear today that those who have opposed marriage equality stand on the wrong side of history and all the hard work in my community, state and throughout the country will not be undone by those in other states standing in the way of progress and equality."
U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Orlando): "Love has conquered all! The Supreme Court has done the right thing morally and legally in confirming every American's right to marry whom he or she chooses. This day has been a long time coming, and one that heralds another advance for civil rights in America. I had the honor of serving as the ring-bearer at the first same-sex marriage in Central Florida, and I look forward to celebrating at the weddings of my gay and lesbian friends across the nation."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida): "I believe that marriage, as the key to strong family life, is the most important institution in our society and should be between one man and one woman. People who disagree with the traditional definition of marriage have the right to change their state laws. That is the right of our people, not the right of the unelected judges or justices of the Supreme Court. This decision short-circuits the political process that has been underway on the state level for years.
"While I disagree with this decision, we live in a republic and must abide by the law. As we look ahead, it must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood.
"The next president and all in public office must strive to protect the First Amendment rights of religious institutions and millions of Americans whose faiths hold a traditional view of marriage. This is a constitutional duty, not a political opinion. Our nation was founded on the human right of religious freedom, and our elected leaders have a duty to protect that right by ensuring that no one is compelled by law to violate their conscience.
"I firmly believe the question of same sex marriage is a question of the definition of an institution, not the dignity of a human being. Every American has the right to pursue happiness as they see fit. Not every American has to agree on every issue, but all of us do have to share our country. A large number of Americans will continue to believe in traditional marriage, and a large number of Americans will be pleased with the Court’s decision today. In the years ahead, it is my hope that each side will respect the dignity of the other."
U.S. Rep Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville): "With today's decision, gay marriage will now be legal across the United States. This decision reminds us of the civil rights battle to permit intermarriage between blacks and whites, which culminated in the 1967 Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage between interracial couples.
"It was only a few years ago when the first same-sex couples were able to marry legally in our country. Discrimination in any form should not be sanctioned by U.S. law, and today's decision affirms that equal justice under the law includes marriage equality for everyone."
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi: "We have always sought finality on this important constitutional issue, and today the United States Supreme Court provided the clarity our state and country was seeking. Our country has vigorously debated the issue, with good people on all sides. Many on both sides feel strongly about the issue, having deeply held and sincere beliefs. Legal efforts were not about personal beliefs or opinions, but rather, the rule of law. The United States Supreme Court has the final word on interpreting the Constitution, and the court has spoken."