The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 5-to-4 decision that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage.

Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the long-awaited decision Friday morning.

“The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. The petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex,” Kennedy wrote in the decision.

In his remarks at the White House following the decision’s release, President Barack Obama said the Supreme Court’s ruling was not only a victory for the couples represented in the cases, but a victory for the U.S. as a whole.

“And this ruling is a victory for America,” he said. “This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”

He also said the decision should encourage those who are still fighting for social change that change is possible.

“But today should also give us hope that on the many issues with which we grapple, often painfully, real change is possible.” he said. “Shift in hearts and minds is possible. And those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them, because for all of our differences, we are one people, stronger together than we could ever be alone. That’s always been our story.”

In dissenting opinion Justice John Roberts argued justices have the responsibility to determine what the law is, not what the law should be. This argument said states have the right to determine for themselves within those legislative bodies whether or not same-sex marriage is legal.

Key to Kennedy’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage was consideration of the evolution of marriage, in addition to a recognition of its history.

“The centrality of marriage to the human condition makes it unsurprising that the institution has existed for millennia and across civilizations,” Kennedy wrote. “The petitioners acknowledge this history but contend that these cases cannot end there. Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.”

Outside the courthouse, onlookers erupted with cheers when the decision was released.

Following their excitement, there was a moment of silence until shortly thereafter the Washington D.C. Gay Men’s choir, standing in the back, began to sing a verse of the Star Spangled Banner. “USA” chants started filling the crowd.

That festive atmosphere remained at the Court for the hours after the decision, with hundreds of people still gathered two hours after the decision was announced, waving flags and breaking out into spontaneous cheers, as the men’s choir kept singing intermittently.

Stu Maddux, a resident of San Francisco California, was one of many people gathered outside the Court Friday morning. He and others in attendance traveled long distances across the nation to witness this historic decision.

“We came in from California just to be here for this,” Maddux said. “We cried. We got married when Prop 8 was repealed, but to be out here for this, it feels even more affirming. It really can’t be taken away now.”

John Michael Eclar, a D.C. resident, said achieving marriage equality and gaining large amounts of support was unimaginable, characterizing the event as surreal.

“Marriage equality across the nation is a thing I didn’t think I would see in my lifetime. Growing up in Virginia, where I was this…really insecure awkward person where in my upbringing I thought that being gay was a sin and it was something that I couldn’t accept personally,” Eclar said. “And as I was growing up, and the way the country was evolving, it was just amazing to see how supportive everybody started to become.”

Justin Quam, also a D.C. resident, said he too was in awe of the Court’s ruling.

“I’m just amazed that we’re here to see it,” Quam said. “I remember a couple of years ago, I made a bet with my brother of when marriage equality would be the law of the land, and I bet him it would be before 2020. And even at the time, I thought I was going to lose that bet for sure.”

Joe Goldma, a D.C. resident, said having moved to D.C. from Texas, he feels relieved to be able to celebrate and enjoy a sense of community he never experienced before. Goldma, who was dressed up as U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said he chose the outfit in honor of Ginsburg’s perseverance.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get where she is, whether it was in her advocacy, as an advocate lawyer and of course as a judge,” Goldma said. “And for me it’s sort of inspiration, to continue to push and break those glass ceilings, to be the person that I want to be.”

Conor Rogers, a D.C. resident who went to the Court to hear the decision with his partner, said the Court’s ruling is one that will go down in history.

“This is the kind of thing that your kids will read in textbooks, and they’ll be like, where were you when it happened?” Rogers said. “And so to be literally here is kind of amazing.If you went back in time and told me when I was fifteen years old, I’d be surprised,” Rogers said. “But I think as time went on, I think people knew this was inevitable, whether it was by the Court or by the vote.”

Al Gerhardstein, attorney for lead plaintiff Jim Obergefell, also participated in celebrations outside the court. He said the court’s decision carried much emotional weight.

“It’s all very exciting, and it’s also very personal…in the bar section in the courtroom I was listening to all these otherwise jaded lawyers weep,” he said. “And I’m among it. I mean, it’s that profound that you can do nothing other than emote, when you realise what’s going on.”

Gerhardstein said though there may be more complications to face in the future, today was a victory worth celebrating.

“I don’t know how that’ll fare,” he said. “I haven’t even read the decision yet, so I don’t know where the loopholes are, that they’re going to be hunting for. So that’s tomorrow. Today is champagne.”

Justices were considering several cases that challenged same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Michigan, which were consolidated under the name Obergefell v. Hodges. Opening arguments for the case began in April.

Michigan’s case, DeBoer v. Snyder, began in January 2012 when Michigan residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, challenging Michigan’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples.

DeBoer and Rowse separately adopted one son and two daughters, respectively, but were unable to jointly adopt their children because Michigan does not recognize same-sex marriages and only grants joint parent adoption rights to married couples.

At the invitation of U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, the couple changed their suit to instead challenge Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. Last March, Friedman ruled that Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, resulting in a 24-hour period in Michigan in which roughly 300 marriages were performed. However, just a day later, the decision was stayed, and no more same-sex marriages could be performed. By November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision, upholding Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage.

In a statement released after the decision was announced, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said the State of Michigan will comply with the court’s ruling.

Same-sex marriage has been a divisive issue in Michigan and across our country,” he said. “Recognizing that there are strong feelings on both sides, it is important for everyone to respect the judicial process and the decision today from the U.S. Supreme Court. Our state government will follow the law and our state agencies will make the necessary changes to ensure that we will fully comply.”

Instead of continuing to debate the issue, Snyder said Michigan residents should instead focus on celebrating diversity.

“Let’s also recognize while this issue has stirred passionate debate, we now should focus on the values we share,” he said. With this matter now settled, as Michiganders we should move forward positively, embracing our state’s diversity and striving to treat everyone with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

Last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed a bill allowing adoption agencies to deny service to same-sex couples due to religious beliefs.

Justices considered two questions while hearing arguments for the case. The first question asked whether the 14th Amendment requires states to legalize marriage between two people of the same sex. The second asked whether a state is required to recognize a same-sex marriage that is legal in another state.

During the oral arguments of the case, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said he was skeptical of same-sex couple’s claim they are denied the right to marry. His skepticism stems from his belief that their claim suggests a change in the definition of marriage, which has been characterized as a union between a man and woman for millennia.

Justice Samuel Alito characterized the DeBoer v. Snyder case as primarily aimed toward demeaning nations and cultures that do not recognize same-sex marriage.

“How do you account for the fact that, as far as I’m aware, until the end of the 20th century, there never was a nation or a culture that recognized marriage between two people of the same sex?” Alito asked. “Now, can we infer from that that those nations and those cultures all thought that there was some rational, practical purpose for defining marriage in that way or is it your argument that they were all operating independently based solely on irrational stereotypes and prejudice?”

Attorney Mary Bonauto, the lawyer representing the pro same-sex marriage cases, defended her argument, saying Michigan bans on gay marriage encompass moral judgements and stereotypes against homosexual people.

“The Michigan statute and amendment certainly went out of their way to say that gay people were in some sense antithetical to the good of society,” Bonauto said.

Senior News Editor Shoham Geva contributed to this article.

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