Alex Wong / Getty Images

SCOTUS marriage decision marks drawdown of political fight

Democrats applaud decision, and many 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls strike conciliatory tone

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the United States in a landmark ruling Friday morning, not only extending the institution to all LGBT Americans but also signaling the drawdown of a once-fierce political fight.

President Barack Obama, who came into office opposing same-sex marriage and will leave the White House as the first president to fully embrace it, lauded the decision as a reflection of how far the country has come on the issue in a relatively short period of time.

“This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts,” he said. “When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”

Polls show how quickly public opinion shifted on the issue — across the party spectrum — over the last two decades. A Gallup poll in May showed that 60 percent of Americans, including 37 percent of Republicans, supported same-sex marriage. In 1996, only 27 percent of Americans approved.

In an era of polarized politics, when many of the problems that the president has tried to address have been intractable and stymied by gridlock, Obama also hailed the Court’s decision Friday as evidence that progress can still be made.

“Today should also give us hope that on the many issues with which we grapple, often painfully, real change is possible. Shift in hearts and minds is possible,” he said. “And those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them.”

Obama’s comments were echoed by Hillary Clinton, who also started her political career as an opponent of marriage equality but has come to enthusiastically support the cause in her second presidential campaign.

"Proud to celebrate a historic victory for marriage equality — & the courage & determination of LGBT Americans who made it possible," she said via Twitter on Friday.

The rapidly-evolving politics of the issue were also evident in the reaction from leading Republicans, some of whom reiterated their personal opposition to same-sex marriage but also struck a conciliatory tone in responding to the Supreme Court’s opinion — far less defiant than their reaction to Thursday’s Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare.”  Many noted that there was little recourse available to same-sex marriage opponents who want to press forward.

“I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a statement. “I also believe that we should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments.  In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another presidential contender, similarly said that while he believed the question of same-sex marriage should have been left up to the states, he accepted the ruling.  

“While I disagree with this decision, we live in a republic and must abide by the law,” he said in a statement. “As we look ahead, it must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood.”

Many Republicans noted the need to protect the personal liberty of those who still oppose same-sex unions because of their religious beliefs —a controversial issue that came to the fore with a broadly written religious freedom law in Indiana that sought to extend additional protections to such individuals, but that critics said invited discrimination.

Still, other Republican 2016 candidates — particularly those seeking the social conservative vote in the coming nominating contests — doubled down on their opposition, vowing to keep fighting for the right of states to make their own decisions.

“As a result of this decision, the only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said in a statement. “I call on the president and all governors to join me in reassuring millions of Americans that the government will not force them to participate in activities that violate their deeply held religious beliefs. No one wants to live in a country where the government coerces people to act in opposition to their conscience. We will continue to fight for the freedoms of all Americans.”

However, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, also running for president in 2016, noted the public’s shift on the issue.

“I will respect the Court's decision,” he said in a statement. “Furthermore, given the quickly changing tide of public opinion on this issue, I do not believe that an attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution could possibly gain the support of three-fourths of the states or a supermajority in the U.S. Congress. Rather than pursing a divisive effort that would be doomed to fail, I am committing myself to ensuring the protection of religious liberties of all Americans.”

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter