The U.S. Supreme Court made marriage for same-sex couples legal nationwide today, declaring that refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples violates the Constitution.

The landmark ruling on maririage equality will produce the most significant change in laws governing matrimony since the court struck down state bans on inter-racial marriage almost 50 years ago.

 Justice Anthony KennedyThe wrote the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision stating, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were,” Kennedy wrote. “As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.”

Kennedy went on to speak directly to the type of criticism that often comes from conservatives in pushing back against marriage equality.

“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves,” Kennedy wrote. “Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

36 states now allow gay couples to get married. That covers roughly 70 percent of the US population. Today’s ruling means the bans must end in the other 14 states — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

President Barack Obama, speaking from the White House just after the ruling, called the decision a “victory for America”.

“When all Americans are treated as equal we are all more free,” the president said.

From the White House Rose Garden, he said that social progress sometimes is slow, “and then there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”

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