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The U.S. Supreme Court struck down gay marriage bans as unconstitutional in a decision issued Friday, making the right to same-sex marriage the law of the land in all 50 states.

Same-sex marriage is the law of the land in America

In a 5-4 ruling, the justices said the 14th Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex. States must also recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when it is licensed and performed out of state.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote in close decisions, authored the majority opinion, and was joined by liberal justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family," Kennedy wrote. "As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It wou

ld 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. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

The widely anticipated decision effectively legalizes same-sex marriage across the nation. Most states permit lesbian and gay couples to marry, but several still do not.

The case, which consolidated four lawsuits under the name Obergefell v. Hodges, challenged the constitutionality of state laws banning gay marriage in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The more than two dozen plaintiffs in the case could not marry in their home state, or found that state officials would not recognize their marriage if it had taken place elsewhere. This prevented them enjoying the same rights as heterosexual couples, including joint adoption of children, receiving benefits as a surviving spouse, and being listed on a child's birth certificate.

Chief Justice John Roberts dissented from the majority, along with conservative justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Each wrote their own opinion.

In his 31-page dissent, Roberts disagreed that the Constitution should grant same-sex couples the right to marriage.

"If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision," he 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."

Adam Romero, senior counsel at the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that the availability of same-sex marriage in states where it is currently banned depends on how quickly state officials and lower courts act on the Supreme Court decision.

District courts have already ruled some state bans unconstitutional, but had paused the legal process while waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on Obergefell v. Hodges.

“The writing is clearly on the wall,” Romero said. “I think what we’re going to see state officials deciding not enforce bans any longer.”

Whether officials start issuing licenses to same-sex couples immediately depends on existing administrative obstacles. Some certificates, for example, might still say husband and wife. While it’s not clear how or if opponents of same-sex marriage will try to block or circumvent the Supreme Court decision, Romero said its ruling would prevail over any challenges.

The decision was heralded by marriage equality activists, and it marked a radical shift in acceptance of lesbian and gay couples. In 2001, according to Pew Research, 57% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage. Now, that same percentage supports it.

"This ruling is a victory for America," President Barack Obama said in a live statement.

"This morning the Supreme Court recognized that the Constitution guarantees marriage equality," he said. "In doing so, they've reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law, that all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are or who they love."

An estimated 690,000 married and unmarried same-sex couples live in the U.S., according to 2013 data.

Thomas Kostura, a plaintiff in Tanco v. Haslam, told Mashable that he learned of the decision while sitting in a barber’s chair Friday morning. After several days of waiting for the ruling this week, Kostura decided to continue with his day as usual.

When the news appeared on the television, Kostura could barely contain his elation. “I’m not entirely sure how to describe it, because I don’t think I’ve ever felt this before,” he said of the overwhelming emotions.

Kostura and his husband, Ijpe DeKoe, a Sgt. 1st Class in the Army Reserve, live in Memphis, Tennessee. Since the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, the couple’s marriage has been legally recognized by the military, but the state of Tennessee does not acknowledge their union.

Kostura said that he encountered reminders of that constantly: “It happens every day. Do you break the law and check married, or do you disrespect the person you’re committed to and check single? It’s painful.”

Kostura said the couple had simple plans to enjoy the Supreme Court ruling.

“We look look forward to checking the box that legally applies and emotionally applies,” he said, “and not having anyone argue with us when I say my husband.”
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