Q&A: What the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling means

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriage Explained

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The decades-long debate about whether same-sex marriage should be allowed in the United States was finally settled Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled gay and lesbian couples can get married anywhere in the country.

A closer look at what it means:

--

IS THIS THE FINAL WORD ON THE ISSUE?

Yes, for all intents and purposes. The states that oppose gay marriage could ask the justices to reconsider, but that's unlikely. That means June 26, 2015, will be marked in future history books as the moment gay marriage was declared legal across the United States.

36 PHOTOS
Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage, Gay Marriage, Marriage Equality
See Gallery
Q&A: What the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling means
People celebrate during a rally outside the Stonewall Tavern in the West Village in New York on June 26, 2015, after the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26, that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Ikeita Cantu, left, and her wife Carmen Guzman, of McLean, Va., hold up signs as they celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. The couple was married in Canada in 2009 when gay marriage was illegal in Virginia. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A couple kiss to celebrate the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage during a rally outside the Stonewall Tavern in the West Village in New York on June 26, 2015, after the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26, that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that legalized same sex marriage nationwide, is backed by supporters of the courts ruling on same-sex marriage on the step of the Texas Capitol during a rally Monday, June 29, 2015, in Austin, Texas. The Supreme Court declared Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN - Marriage equality supporters rally on the steps of the Supreme Court as they wait for a decision Friday, June 26, 2015, in Washington. (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)
People celebrates during a rally outside the Stonewall Tavern in the West Village in New York on June 26, 2015, after the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26, that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Carlos McKnight of Washington, waves a flag in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. A major opinion on gay marriage is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
People celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of same-sex marriage celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Two women celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
People run under a giant equality flag as they celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 26: Same-sex marriage supporters from the Human Rights Campaign celebrate after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages nationwide on Friday, June 26, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
People shout slogans as they celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
The crowd celebrates outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama walks toward the podium before speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2015, after the Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples have the right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Activists hold signs regarding same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
From left, Annie Katz of the University of Michigan, Zaria Cummings of Michigan State University, Spencer Perry of Berkeley, Calif., and Justin Maffett of Dartmouth University, celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People shout slogans as they celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
The crowd reacts as the ruling on same-sex marriage was announced outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. The Supreme Court declared Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Same-sex marriage supporters hold rainbow flags outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People wave a giant equality flag in celebration outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Ariel Olah of Detroit, left, and her fiancee Katie Boatman, are overcome by emotion outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2015, as the ruling on same-sex marriage was announced. The court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A man holds a rainbow flag in support of same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Carmelita Cabello, left, and her partner of 31 year, Jaque Roberts, right, arrive at the Travis County building for a marriage license after hearing the Supreme Court ruling that grants same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Lupe Garcia, left, hugs her partner Cindy Stocking, right, at the Travis County building after hearing the Supreme Court ruling that grants same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay couples nationwide have the right to marry in a 5-4 decision. How incredible it is to be here as they announced it!
It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality . . . Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry works a grave and continuing harm. #fbf #equality #lovemustwin #freedomtomarry
People are FREAKING OUT at the Stonewall Inn! Tears, hugs, laughter. http://t.co/bC1RUfEDzk
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN - Participants celebrate at the San Francisco Pride Parade on Sunday, June 28, 2015, in San Francisco, Calif., two days after the Supreme Court's landmark decision to require that states issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. (Adm Golub/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

--

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE 14 STATES THAT STILL BAN GAY MARRIAGE?

The Southern and Midwestern states must lift their bans and allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. Marriage licenses were already being issued Friday in many of these states. The court gave the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration, but some state officials and county clerks are opting to go ahead and begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The 14 states that had banned gay marriage are Georgia, Ohio, Texas, Arkansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, most of Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Tennessee.

--

DOES ANYTHING CHANGE IN THE 36 STATES AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA THAT ALREADY ALLOW GAY MARRIAGE?

No. The ruling ensures that the wave of lower-court decisions that legalized gay marriage across most of the West and East in the last 1 1/2 years stand. The Supreme Court ruling prevents state officials and county clerks from being forced to determine how to deal with thousands of marriages already issued. LGBT advocates and married gay couples celebrated in these states, expressing relief and joy that the movement's remarkable winning streak in the courts stretched to the end.

--

DOES THIS MEAN CHURCHES MUST CONDUCT GAY MARRIAGES?

No. Religious organizations are exempt from this ruling. They can still make their own decisions about whether clergy will conduct gay marriages in their places of worship. Southern Baptists, Mormons and other conservative churches that believe God intended marriage to be a union only between a man and a woman said the ruling won't change their decisions not to allow same-sex marriages in their churches. Some religions already allow gay marriage, such as the United Church of Christ, and more could follow. Episcopalians are set to decide next week at an assembly in Salt Lake City whether to change church laws so religious weddings can be performed for same-sex couples.

--

WILL GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES GET THE SAME BENEFITS THAT OPPOSITE-SEX MARRIED COUPLES RECEIVE?

They should, but there may be hiccups as states come to grips with this new reality. Being able to get Social Security benefits, file taxes jointly and get divorced should be easy to implement, but gay and lesbian couples will likely find a bumpy road in being granted outright parentage of their children, said Douglas NeJaime, faculty director of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. Most states grant automatic parental rights to the biological birth mother and father. For a lesbian couple, only one person fits that mold. For gay men, neither does. Iowa refused to grant automatic parental rights until the state Supreme Court ordered Iowa to do so in 2013. In Utah, a lesbian couple has sued the state after they were not allowed to put both of their names on their new baby's birth certificate. NeJaime predicts the states that resisted making gay marriage legal will also push back on this front.

--

WERE THE JUSTICES UNANIMOUS IN THEIR DECISION?

No. The ruling narrowly passed 5-4. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, joined by the court's four more liberal justices, saying the stories of the people asking for the right to marry "reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses' memory, joined by its bond." The four dissenting justices each filed a separate opinion explaining his views, but they all agreed that states and their voters should have been left with the power to decide who can marry. "This court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

--

WHAT DOES THE AMERICAN PUBLIC THINK ABOUT GAY MARRIAGE?

Nearly half of Americans favor laws allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed in their own states, while just over a third are opposed, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll in April. Other recent polls have found even higher support for same-sex marriage. For example, a Pew Research Center poll conducted in May found that 57 percent of Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, while a Gallup poll also conducted in May found 60 percent say those marriages should be legally recognized.

--

HOW MANY SAME-SEX COUPLES ARE ALREADY MARRIED?

There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to the Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans. Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says. Roughly 1 million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the United States, the institute says.

--

HOW DID CONSERVATIVE GROUPS THAT OPPOSE GAY MARRIAGE REACT TO THE RULING?

With frustration. The Sutherland Institute in Utah said the decision shows a growing opinion among government and "other elites" that adult interests are more important than the well-being of children, who they believe are much better off raised by opposite-sex couples. Another Utah group called the Eagle Forum declared in a statement that the justices "voted today to destroy our American culture."

19 PHOTOS
2016 candidates on gay marriage ruling
See Gallery
Q&A: What the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling means
My thoughts on today's Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage: http://t.co/fd4nzBmUBl
This flawed, failed decision is an out-of-control act of unconstitutional judicial tyranny --> http://t.co/WMborH3TxB #SCOTUS
The Supreme Court can no more repeal the laws of nature and nature's God on marriage than it can the laws of gravity.
Proud to celebrate a historic victory for marriage equality—& the courage & determination of LGBT Americans who made it possible. -H
I’m a firm believer in traditional marriage, and I also believe the 10th Amendment leaves it to each state to decide this issue. #SCOTUS
Congratulations to Supreme Court on today's good ruling for marriage equality! #chafee2016
What a day for our country—join me in celebrating today’s decision & thanking the advocates who helped make it happen http://t.co/4JaNmOIgTA
I believe SCOTUS' decision is a grave mistake. 5 unelected judges have taken it upon themselves to redefine the institution of marriage.-SKW
Today the Supreme Court fulfilled the words engraved upon its building: ‘Equal justice under law.’ #SCOTUSMarriage
My statement on today’s #SCOTUS ruling http://t.co/UalM0QnBuF
Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that. http://t.co/1Kfw9l0KMG
Today, 5 unelected judges redefined the foundational unit of society. Now it is the people's turn to speak #Marriage
Once again the Bush appointed Supreme Court Justice John Roberts has let us down. Jeb pushed him hard! Remember!
We must not submit our constitutional freedoms, and the promise of our nation, to judicial tyranny http://t.co/ZInyN6JfLR #SCOTUS
A large number of Americans will continue to believe in traditional marriage....
...and a large number of Americans will be pleased with the Court’s decision today.
My statement on today's Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage: http://t.co/0udkTLDBE9
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Read Full Story

People are Reading