Jason Coats and Tone Stowers of Kansas City, surrounded by family and friends, will exchange wedding vows Saturday.
Their marriage of one man to another would have been all but unimaginable even a decade ago. But because of what happened Friday, their union will be legal in all 50 states.
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In a broad, historic ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court said the right to marriage for untold numbers of same-sex couples, including Coats and Stowers, is firmly protected by the Constitution.
“It feels really huge,” Coats said. “To be in the middle of that and be celebrating our union … it makes you feel more human. And it definitely makes me feel very much more like an American.”
In Washington, President Barack Obama applauded the ruling.
“We have made our Union,” he said, “a little more perfect.”
The feeling was not universal.
Those who see the ruling as an assault on traditional heterosexual marriage denounced the 5-4 decision as an improper infringement on state and voter rights, and their religious beliefs.
“God’s design for marriage and the family has now been fully perverted,” said a statement from Joe Ortwerth, executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council. “The sacred institution of marriage has been legally transformed into an abomination.”
Some Republicans renewed calls for amending the Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages.
But their voices seemed subdued, at least for a day, by celebrations in cities across the nation.
Hundreds rallied on the steps of the Supreme Court, lauding a ruling that some compared to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case that outlawed racial discrimination in schools.
Supporters of same-sex marriage gathered to celebrate Friday afternoon at Ilus Davis Park across from City Hall. The gathering recalled the 40-year effort to open marriage to gay and lesbian couples and to move the nation closer to full civil equality for homosexuals.
Gay and lesbian couples in the region reported a mix of emotions Friday: pride, determination, relief, patriotism.
“Extreme joy,” said Mark Stahl of Overland Park, whose four-year engagement to Danny Zaslavsky will soon culminate in a wedding ceremony.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote Friday’s majority opinion. It said same-sex couples must be allowed to be married, and that their marriages must be legally recognized in every state.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” he wrote.
“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,” Kennedy continued. “… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
The majority decision declared the “transcendent importance of marriage” and concluded the Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection extend to the right to same-sex couples to wed.
Marriage restrictions imposed by states, Kennedy wrote, have “the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects.”
The only way to unravel the court’s action would be to amend the U.S. Constitution, a long shot that has fallen from political favor.
“The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,” Kennedy wrote.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the principle dissent. In it, he argued same-sex marriage should be left to voters and legislators, not judges.
“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” Roberts wrote. “Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”
As word of the opinion became public, courthouses in states where same-sex marriage had been curtailed or banned scrambled to adjust to the decision.
In Jackson County, Mo., and in Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas, it was more or less business as usual Friday. Those counties have been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples for several months in reaction to a lower court ruling.
In other counties — Platte and Clay in Missouri, for example — the process was more deliberate.
While Clay County waited for the county counselor to finish reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision, officials in Platte County worked to update their computer system so they could begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
Officials with both counties said there had been few calls about same-sex marriage licenses from residents, and that they were not aware of people lining up and waiting to have a license issued.
Some authorities said it might take several days or weeks before all the state’s counties can routinely issue same-sex marriage licenses. A map published online by PROMO, a Missouri organization supporting same-sex marriage, showed a growing number of counties issuing marriage licenses throughout the day.
Some Kansas courthouse officials also spent Friday studying the ruling. There was no indication, though, that anyone planned to ignore the ruling or permanently seek to deny licenses to same-sex couples.
At a Kansas City news conference, attorney Gillian Wilcox of the American Civil Liberties Union said her group believes same-sex marriage is legal “as of today.”
The ACLU urged couples who were unable to obtain licenses to contact their office.
Kansas officials said the ruling would likely affect a pending same-sex marriage case in the state. Last year a federal judge said the state had to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but some counties refused to do so.
Both Gov. Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt said the state will study the ruling further.
“Activist courts should not overrule the people of this state, who have clearly supported the Kansas Constitution’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman,” Brownback said in a statement.
Across the state line, Gov. Jay Nixon applauded the ruling and said the state would issue guidance to counties to help them respond to the court’s decision.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster dismissed the state’s federal appeals in two same-sex marriage cases. Missouri’s constitution says “that to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.”
Koster had been defending that position in court — he’s said he opposed the ban but was obligated to defend state law — but it is now void.
Missouri’s voters put the definition into the state’s foundational document, and much of the criticism Friday involved the Supreme Court’s pre-emption of voters’ choices on the same-sex issue.
In an aggressive dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the nation’s democratic government was threatened by the majority opinion.
“Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court,” he wrote.
Gay and lesbian activists in Kansas and Missouri rejected his view.
“Civil rights is not something that should be on the ballot,” said Andy Schuerman of Kansas City, who married partner Jim MacDonald 10 years ago in Canada.
He and others also said the ruling should be expanded beyond marriage rights to more fully protect gays and lesbians against workplace discrimination.
But some said those debates could wait at least a day. Friday, they wanted to focus on the long campaign for marriage, an effort that began decades ago.
“It’s a huge relief knowing that this fight has been worth it,” said Mike Hopkins. “It’s really important to take a moment and appreciate all those who stood up and came out when it wasn’t easy.”
The Star’s Hunter Woodall, Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.