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Marriage Equality in the US

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The following is a guest post by Alexander Salopek, a collection development specialist in the Collection Services Division. He previously wrote a post on Theodore Roosevelt.

In honor of tomorrow being the anniversary of the decisions being handed down, I thought it would be interesting to revisit three of the cases that lead to marriage equality in the United States. As Justice Kennedy wrote in the Obergefell opinion, marriage “allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons.” (576 U.S. (2015)). Looking at some of the stories behind the cases sheds light on these decisions.

The White House lit up in rainbow colors at night
Rainbow White House, June 26, 2015. Lit on the night of the Supreme Court decision on Obergefell v. Hodges. Photo by Alexander Salopek.

1. Hollingsworth v. Perry et al.

Hollingsworth v. Perry was about Judge Walker’s decision to strike down Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative that denied access to marriage to same-sex couples. Ultimately, the decision was ruled on the basis of standing; the Attorney General of California declined to defend Proposition 8 in court, so it was defended by the individuals who organized the ballot initiative. It was ruled that the organizers did not have Article 3 standing in the case, thus the district ruling stood.

Kristin Perry (who is represented in the suit) and Sandra Stier

Kristin (Kris) Perry worked with children’s advocacy for the State of California; Sandra (Sandy) Stier worked for the county government in Alameda, and they were parents to four boys (Yoshino, 29). They initially married in 2004 when then-Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom ordered the county clerk to issue marriage licenses that were later invalidated by the Supreme Court of California (Boies & Olson, 52-53). They chose not to be remarried in 2008 because of the uncertainty of the marriage performed with Proposition 8 on the ballot, after the Supreme Court of California found in In re Marriage Cases, 43 Cal. 4th 757, that under the state constitution, barring the issuance of marriage licenses was violating same-sex couples’ rights (Perry & Stier, 96-97). Proposition 8 was a constitutional amendment to California’s State Constitution, thus the existing same-sex marriages remained valid though no new marriage licenses were issued. When Perry and Stier were denied a marriage license based on Proposition 8, their attorney filed suit (Perry & Stier, 108). After the case was decided by the United States Supreme Court, Perry and Stier wrote a book about their experience, in Love on Trial.

Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo

Paul Katami was a fitness instructor and Jeffrey Zarrillo was a general manager at a movie theater; they were a committed couple who lived in a house in Burbank with two bulldogs (Becker, 39). A commercial aired called “A Gathering Storm,” produced by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which Paul and Jeffrey found insulting (Yoshino, 29). Within a few days, the couple produced a YouTube video called “Weathering the Storm,”- which provided rebuttals to the claims made by the NOM commercial (Boies & Olson, 52-53). “Weathering the Storm” showed how committed the couple was to marriage equality and brought them to the attention of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) as challengers to Proposition 8 (Becker, 39). Once they applied for a marriage license and were denied on the basis of Proposition 8, their lawyers filed suit in Northern California District Court (Yoshino, 31). After the case was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, Paul and Jeff started a podcast entitled “The Husbands,” where they often have discussions with guests about issues pertaining to current events.

2. United States v. Windsor

Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act provided that the federal government would not apply words like “marriage” and “spouse” to same-sex couples. When Edie Windsor settled her spouse’s estate, she found out she owed taxes, which she would not have owed to the federal government if her spouse had not been a woman. Windsor sued in district court, arguing she was owed a refund since the law violated her Fifth Amendment right of due process. The district court sided with Windsor, as did the circuit court. The Supreme Court affirmed that judgment.

Edith (Edie) Windsor

Edie Windsor was a mathematician and worked with IBM when she got engaged to Thea Spyer, a psychologist in private practice (Kaplan, 85-91). Instead of using a ring, Spyer pinned a broach to Windsor as Spyer believed that her colleagues would not understand (Kaplan, 91). After a long engagement, Windsor and Spyer registered as domestic partners when that became legal in New York. It wasn’t until 2007, when Spyer got a particularly grim prognosis, that they decided to marry in Canada, which the state of New York recognized (Kaplan, 86). In 2009, Thea Spyer died, and when Windsor went to settle the estate, she found she owed a large amount of tax to the federal government since they didn’t recognize Windsor and Spyer’s marriage (Becker, 254). If their marriage was recognized, she would have owed nothing. Windsor met with Robbie Kaplan and decided to file suit in the Southern District of New York (Becker, 257). After the lawsuit was resolved by the Supreme Court of the United States, Edie Windsor became a gay icon, including becoming the Grand Marshal of the 2013 New York City Pride Parade.

3. Obergefell v. Hodges

James Obergefell sued the State of Ohio for not recognizing him on his spouse John Arthur’s death certificate. He believed it violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights of due process and equal protection. The Southern District of Ohio sided with Obergefell, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision. The Supreme Court found that the states could not deny same-sex couples marriage licenses and states had to recognize lawful marriages performed in other states.

James (Jim) Obergefell

Soon after the Windsor decision was handed down, Jim Obergefell asked John Arthur to marry him and Arthur accepted (Cenziper et al., 1). The tricky part was that John was bedridden with complications of ALS and the state they resided in did not allow gay marriage. Obergefell planned for them to be married in Maryland because of the difficulty and pain it caused Arthur to travel; it was the most convenient place close to home to get legally married. The couple flew together on a chartered medical plane and were married on the tarmac of BWI Marshall airport (Cenziper et al., 3). Eight days after their wedding, they filed suit to have their marriage recognized.

After the Supreme Court handed down the decision, Jim Obergefell wrote a book with Debbie Cenziper about the case, the lawyers involved, and him and his husband.


KF229.H654 B43 2015 Becker, Jo. Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality.

KF229.H654 B65 2014 Boies, David & Olson, Theodore. Redeeming the dream: the case for marriage equality.

KF229.O24 C46 2016 Cenziper, Debbie and Obergefell, Jim. Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality.

KF229.W56 K37 2015 Kaplan, Roberta with Dickey, Lisa. Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA.

KF229.H654 P47 2017 Perry, Kris & Stier, Sandy. Love on Trial: Our Supreme Court Fight for the Right to Marry.

KF229.H654 Y67 2016 Yoshino, Kenji. Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial.


Hollingsworth v. Perry 570 U.S. 693 (2013)

Obergefell v. Hodges. 576 U.S. 644 (2015)

United States v. Windsor. 570 U.S. 744 (2013)

Comments (2)

  1. Very interesting, but I do have a great big bone to pick over the cases cited.

    How quick we forget the granddaddy of them all, Loving v Virginia. But for Loving (what a great name for the plaintiff in a marriage case), I’m not sure the others would have succeeded.

  2. This is fabulous.

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