June 26, 2020

Christopher Vasquez, NCLR Communications Director
415.365.1337 | cvasquez@nclrights.org


Obergefell was about much more than simply winning the freedom to marry.”

WASHINGTON, DCThe National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) today joins with millions of LGBTQ people and allies in celebrating the five-year anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling establishing marriage equality in all 50 states.

On June 26, 2015, the Court issued a historic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges holding that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry and to all of the protections and benefits provided by marriage.  Today also marks the seven-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, striking down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples, and the seventeenth anniversary of Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy.  

NCLR was proud to represent three same-sex couples from Tennessee, whose case was heard by the Supreme Court along with Obergefell and two other cases.

Obergefell was about much more than simply winning the freedom to marry,” said Imani Rupert-Gordon, NCLR’s Executive Director. “For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that LGBTQ people form families and enter into relationships that are worthy of protection and respect. Obergefell and the decades of activism that preceded it forever changed the way that our society understands LGBTQ people and their families. Personally, being married to the love of my life is a privilege that I am thankful for daily. I’m indebted to the amazingly brave people that made it possible for everyone to marry the person they love.”

“For LGBTQ people across the country, the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell was resounding proof that, together, we have the power to make change and to fight back against injustice and inequality,” said Shannon Minter, NCLR’s Legal Director. “We need that reminder more than ever now, when our country is facing unprecedented crises that are exacerbating the devastating harms caused by anti-Black racism and economic inequality. On this historic anniversary, let us remember the power of our collective voice and our responsibility to confront and redress the impact of centuries of injustice. Especially for Black LGBTQ people, our struggle for freedom and equality is far from over.”

“Five years after the Court held that Tennessee was legally required to recognize our marriage, it is overwhelming to look back on that day and imagine how much more precarious and insecure our lives and family would be now if the Court had not recognized our right to be treated equally,” said Tennessee plaintiffs Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty. “Every day that goes by, we are grateful that we no longer have to fight for both of us to be recognized as legal parents to our children or for the right to be treated as a committed couple. Every family deserves to be respected and supported, and our country is a much better place today because the Supreme Court affirmed that fundamental principle in Obergefell.”  

NCLR litigated Tanco v. Haslam, the Tennessee marriage case that was consolidated and decided with Obergefell, with Abby Rubenfeld, one of the most storied civil rights litigators in the LGBTQ movement, as well as: Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, Thomas Brown, John Dey, Paul Kellogg, Joshua Goldstein, Samira Omerovic, and Emerson Siegel of Ropes & Gray LLP; William Harbison, Phillip Cramer, Scott Hickman, and John Farringer of Sherrard & Roe, PLC;  Maureen Holland; Regina Lambert, and David Codell.

“After more than forty years of fighting for equality for LGBTQ people, it was incredibly powerful to be part of this historic victory and to see plaintiffs from my home state of Tennessee play an important role in securing the freedom to marry in every state in this country,” said Abby Rubenfeld, whose practice is based in Nashville.

Rubenfeld added: “Especially for those of us living in the South, the impact of this decision cannot be overstated. LGBTQ people in Tennessee and almost every other Southern state still do not have even the most basic state law anti-discrimination protections, but we do have the fundamental right to marry and to have our families treated equally and respectfully under the law. Every day, I see what the decision in Obergefell means for my clients and their families and the huge difference it has made in their lives. Thank goodness my friends at NCLR were ready, willing, and very able to help us achieve this incredible victory.”  

In the decades preceding Obergefell, NCLR’s legal team played a leading role in securing marriage equality in a number of key states. In 2008, NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter argued before the California Supreme Court in In re Marriage Cases, a landmark case that made California the second state in the country to permit same-sex couples to marry. When California voters subsequently enacted Proposition 8, re-imposing a marriage ban, NCLR won another state supreme court case holding that the marriages that had taken place were valid and could not be retroactively nullified.

In addition to California, NCLR won marriage equality victories in Utah, Idaho, Florida, Alabama, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

In 2017, NCLR won another U.S. Supreme Court marriage victory in Pavan v. Smith, which reversed a decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court that refused to order the Arkansas Vital Statistics Bureau to put the name of both parents in a married same-sex couple on their child’s birth certificate. In Pavan, the Supreme Court made clear that states must ensure that married -same-sex couples are treated equally in all respects and have equal access to all of the rights, benefits, and protections tied to marriage under state law.     

Today’s celebration of the fifth anniversary of marriage equality comes fewer than two weeks after the Supreme Court issued an equally historic ruling which affirmed that the sex discrimination provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination in the workplace, including from being fired from their job based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. Since its founding, NCLR has maintained a longstanding commitment to racial and economic justice and the LGBTQ community’s most vulnerable. https://www.nclrights.org