Q&A: What the Supreme Court’s same‑sex marriage ruling means

Balloons spell out the word "love" over the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US.

Balloons spell out the word "love" over the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. Jacquelyn Martin, AP

Balloons spell out the word "love" over the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) Jacquelyn Martin, AP

Balloons spell out the word “love” over the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The decades-long debate about whether same-sex marriage should be allowed in the United States was finally settled Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled gay and lesbian couples can get married anywhere in the country.

A closer look at what it means:

IS THIS THE FINAL WORD ON THE ISSUE?

Yes, for all intents and purposes. The states that oppose same-sex marriage could ask the justices to reconsider, but that’s unlikely. That means June 26, 2015, will be marked in future history books as the moment gay marriage was declared legal across the United States.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE 14 STATES THAT STILL BAN SAME-SEX MARRIAGE?

The Southern and Midwestern states must lift their bans and allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. Marriage licenses were already being issued Friday in many of these states. The court gave the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration, but some state officials and county clerks are opting to go ahead and begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The 14 states that had banned gay marriage are Georgia, Ohio, Texas, Arkansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, most of Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Tennessee.

DOES ANYTHING CHANGE IN THE 36 STATES AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA THAT ALREADY ALLOW SAME-SEX MARRIAGE?

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No. The ruling ensures that the wave of lower-court decisions that legalized gay marriage across most of the West and East in the last 1½ years stand.

The Supreme Court ruling prevents state officials and county clerks from being forced to determine how to deal with thousands of marriages already issued. LGBT advocates and married gay couples celebrated in these states, expressing relief and joy that the movement’s remarkable winning streak in the courts stretched to the end.

DOES THIS MEAN CHURCHES MUST CONDUCT SAME-SEX MARRIAGES?

No. Religious organizations are exempt from this ruling. They can still make their own decisions about whether clergy will conduct gay marriages in their places of worship.

Southern Baptists, Mormons and other conservative churches that believe God intended marriage to be a union only between a man and a woman said the ruling won’t change their decisions not to allow same-sex marriages in their churches. Some religions already allow same-sex marriage, such as the United Church of Christ, and more could follow. Episcopalians are set to decide next week at an assembly in Salt Lake City whether to change church laws so religious weddings can be performed for same-sex couples.

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