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

The crowd celebrates outside of 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.
The crowd celebrates outside of 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

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WILL GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES GET THE SAME BENEFITS THAT OPPOSITE-SEX MARRIED COUPLES RECEIVE?

They should, but there may be hiccups as states come to grips with this new reality. Being able to get Social Security benefits, file taxes jointly and get divorced should be easy to implement, but gay and lesbian couples will likely find a bumpy road in being granted outright parentage of their children, said Douglas NeJaime, faculty director of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. Most states grant automatic parental rights to the biological birth mother and father. For a lesbian couple, only one person fits that mold. For gay men, neither does. Iowa refused to grant automatic parental rights until the state Supreme Court ordered Iowa to do so in 2013. In Utah, a lesbian couple has sued the state after they were not allowed to put both of their names on their new baby’s birth certificate. NeJaime predicts the states that resisted making gay marriage legal will also push back on this front.

WERE THE JUSTICES UNANIMOUS IN THEIR DECISION?

No. The ruling narrowly passed 5-4. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, joined by the court’s four more liberal justices, saying the stories of the people asking for the right to marry “reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memory, joined by its bond.”

The four dissenting justices each filed a separate opinion explaining his views, but they all agreed that states and their voters should have been left with the power to decide who can marry. “This court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

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WHAT DOES THE AMERICAN PUBLIC THINK ABOUT SAME-SEX MARRIAGE?

Nearly half of Americans favor laws allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed in their own states, while just over a third are opposed, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll in April. Other recent polls have found even higher support for same-sex marriage.

For example, a Pew Research Center poll conducted in May found that 57 percent of Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, while a Gallup poll also conducted in May found 60 percent say those marriages should be legally recognized.

HOW MANY SAME-SEX COUPLES ARE ALREADY MARRIED?

There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to the Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans. Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says. Roughly 1 million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the United States, the institute says.

HOW DID CONSERVATIVE GROUPS THAT OPPPOSE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE REACT TO THE RULING?

With frustration. The Sutherland Institute in Utah said the decision shows a growing opinion among government and “other elites” that adult interests are more important than the well-being of children, who they believe are much better off raised by opposite-sex couples. Another Utah group called the Eagle Forum declared in a statement that the justices “voted today to destroy our American culture.”

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