The Star Observer
By Benedict Brook
At 10am Washington time, the news came through that the Supreme Court had ruled US states could no longer bar same-sex couples from marrying.
The ruling means the US is now the world’s 22nd country to embrace marriage equality — a move that further isolates Australia.
This morning, Prime Minister Tony Abbott reiterated his low personal opinion of marriage equality telling reporters: “I have views on this subject which are pretty well known and they haven’t changed.”
Nonetheless, today’s news from the US is certain to harden calls for a law change in Canberra.
Here, the Star Observer brings you the eight things you need to know about the Supreme Court’s ruling and its ramifications for Australia.
1. Same-sex marriage was already legal across much of the US
Massachusetts was the first state to embrace marriage equality back in 2003 and since then the trend has only been increasing.
In the last year alone, 16 of America’s 50 states legalised same-sex marriage and just prior to the ruling more than two thirds of the population lived in areas where gay people could legally wed.
However, there were still around 15 states where gay people could not marry.
Up until the late ‘90s, while same-sex marriage was illegal, marriage wasn’t defined in state constitutions.
Then, between 1998 and 2012, 30 states enacted constitutional amendments that marriage could only be between a man and a woman.
An action that David Smith, a lecturer at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney likens to “legal barricades” being erected against the inevitability of marriage equality.
One by one those barricades fell with the last tumbling today.
2. The Supreme Court actually ruled twice
“The constitutionality of the remaining bars on same-sex marriage,” was the first issue, said Smith.
“The other issue was whether states that bar same-sex marriage have to recognise marriages performed in other states.”
It would have been possible for the Supreme Court to allow states to keep their own bans on marriage yet insist they recognise marriages performed elsewhere.
However, the effect would in many ways have been the same, says Smith.
“All of the states where same-sex marriage was banned bordered at least one other state where marriage equality was legal.”
For instance, for a gay couple in Mobile, Alabama — where gay marriage was unconstitutional — it was only a short drive to Pensacola, Florida, where it was legal.
“So if that part was opened by the Supreme Court it would have opened the doors to everyone.”
3. The decision came down to one man
There may have been thousands of people on the steps of the Supreme Court and nine judges deliberating inside but in the end the decision came down to one person: Anthony Kennedy.
Appointed by President Ronald Reagan Justice Kennedy has proven himself the swing voter in many a court decision.
Speaking to the Star Observer last month, US Ambassador to Australia, John Berry, said: “It’s clear who are the four [judges] for and who are the four against.
“It all comes down to Justice Kennedy,” said Berry who noted his previous judgements were favourable to the LGBTI community.
In the end, Kennedy’s casting vote was in favour of marriage equality with the judge saying: “Same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,”
— HumanRightsCampaign (@HRC) June 26, 2015
4. The Supreme Court has great timing
The ruling came exactly two years to the day after the same court struck down the Defence of Marriage act which defined marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes.
And it comes just two days before the New York Pride march — the biggest in the USA.
It’s going to be a big party.
— Elite Daily (@EliteDaily) June 26, 2015
— Ian McKellen (@IanMcKellen) June 26, 2015
5. The White House seems to be pretty chuffed about the decision.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 27, 2015
"America should be very proud." —President Obama #LoveWins
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 26, 2015
6. Australia is looking a bit lonely right now
Of the world’s Anglosphere countries all have now legislated for marriage equality, bar Australia and Northern Ireland. The latter of which isn’t, strictly speaking, a country.
7. The US decision just increases pressure on Australia
In recent months, the PM has suggested that Liberal MPs might be allowed to follow their conscience on marriage equality should a bill be forthcoming.
However, despite their being three marriage equality bills in play, the issue has yet to be even discussed in the Coalition party room.
But according to the National Director of Australian Marriage Equality, Rodney Croome, the ruling means it won’t be long before the topic is raised.
“It opens us up to international ridicule for banning same-sex marriages while places like Alabama and Mississippi allow them,” he told the Star Observer.
“The world will stop asking ‘will the US adopt marriage equality’ and start asking ‘why hasn’t Australia’?”
“The combined pressure from all these sources may well be enough to tip the Government into allowing a free vote and tip the numbers in parliament into a majority.”
8. For the US, there’s no going back
Despite today’s wails from those against same-sex marriage, Smith says the die is cast.
“Some potentially will challenge the laws but it’s basically the end of the road.
“The Supreme Court is it, that’s as high as you can go.”
Besides, he says, there simply isn’t the will from major politicians to continue the fight.
“What we’re seeing is that people that oppose marriage equality see it as less of an issue.
“The traditional conservative belief that it is a threat to the entire institution of marriage is becoming increasingly limited.”
This article was originally published in the The Star Observer