The Significance of Obergefell v. Hodges
Photo Credits: Jon Elswick
Obergefell v. Hodges is a landmark civil rights case that has created a prominent impact in the LGBTQ+ community. The ruling made by the United States Supreme Court provides same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marriage by the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. After the ruling made on June 26, 2015, provisions and protections of multiple legal areas will impact same-sex couples.
When oral arguments regarding this case were heard on April 28, 2015, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was writing for the majority, stated that the freedom to marry was a fundamental right “inherent in the liberty of the person” and was thus protected by the due process clause (Britannica). The right to marriage is additionally protected by the equal protection clause, which disproves any state from “deny[ing] to any person…the equal protection of the laws.” (Britannica). Kennedy’s arguments were later joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and eventually passed the Obergefell decision (Britannica).
The Obergefell decision has created significant changes to adoption in Kentucky as well. Members of the LGBTQ+ community, both single and same-sex couples, were now qualified to adopt. From the administrative standpoint, the most major change was that forms had now updated the “mother” and “father” title to “parent”. However, prior to this decision, members of the LGBTQ+ community faced multiple difficulties which made it almost impossible to adopt children.
Same-sex couples in Kentucky were additionally able to gain financial advantages from the Obergefell decision (Koch 2015). For example, they were now able to label and file their state tax returns as "married filing jointly”. Through this change, same-sex couples were now able to protect their assets and estate from taxation as well as take less time to assemble their paperwork. Prior to this decision, many couples in the LGBTQ+ community had to spend up to two years requesting refunds that would otherwise be recognized if their marriages were valid.
Same-sex married couples are also able to take advantage of Property laws, as they would be eligible for “Tenancy by the Entireties”. This designation refers to a type of shared property ownership that is available exclusively to married couples (Cornell Law School). Under the Tenancy by the Entireties, the descendant’s spouse would be able to receive full property, regardless of the need for intestate succession or probate (Koch 2015).
Finally, same-sex spouses can now take advantage of intestacy laws, which determine who, typically the spouse, will inherit the assets and property of a person who has passed (Cornell Law School). For example, the descendant’s spouse would be entitled to 50% of the intestate estate interests. Regardless of if the will exists, the descendant’s spouse is able to legally renounce the will receive their share (Koch 2015).
Prior to the day of the ruling, previous research has suggested that the wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community was directly impacted by the denied rights to marriage. According to research conducted through the Gallup Survey, 87% of LGBTQ+ people reported that they had higher levels of life satisfaction after the Obergefell decision (Flores et al 2020). The report additionally included a 46% increase in life satisfaction for LGBTQ+ individuals after the Obergefell decision was finalized (Flores et al 2020). Hence, this marked a significant moment for the LGBTQ+ community in the United States, as their freedom to marry was now recognized, and were additionally able to gain access to a multitude of financial advantages.