WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the United States Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry in a historic triumph for the American gay rights movement.
The court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean that states cannot ban same-sex marriages. With the ruling, gay marriage will become legal in all 50 states.
The ruling marked the third big victory this week for President Barack Obama, whose administration supports gay marriages.
The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld by 6-3 Mr Obama's healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, by rejecting a conservative legal challenge.
The Senate on Wednesday voted 60 to 38 to grant Mr Obama "fast-track" power to negotiate trade deals and speed them through Congress. That could propel the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership over the finish line.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing on behalf of the court, said the hope of gay people intending to marry "is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilisation's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right".
Mr Kennedy, a conservative who often casts the deciding vote in close cases, was joined in the majority by the court's four liberal justices.
In a dissenting opinion, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia said the ruling "says that my ruler and the ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court".
The ruling is the Supreme Court's most important expansion of marriage rights in the US since its landmark 1967 ruling in the case Loving v Virginia that struck down state laws barring interracial marriages.
The decision follows rapid changes in attitudes and policies towards gay marriage in America.
The Supreme Court's ruling came in a consolidated case pulling together challenges filed by same-sex couples to gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
Mr Obama tweeted yesterday: "Today is a big step in our march towards equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else."
Opponents say same-sex marriage legality should be decided by states, not judges.
Some opponents argue it is an affront to traditional marriage between a man and a woman and that the Bible condemns homosexuality.
The emotions of the issue were apparent during the court's April 28 oral arguments in the case when a protester in the courtroom shouted at the justices that they would "burn in hell" if they backed gay marriage.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE