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The final paragraph of Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion holding that couples of the same sex have a constitutional right to wed is a cogent statement of what marriage means.

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. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. 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. 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.

Kennedy is responding to opponents of gay marriage who argue that it undermines the traditional sanctity of an ancient institution by redefining it. The point of same-sex unions is not to weaken marriage, he argues, but to expand it in the nation as a whole and honor it more fully in their own lives.

These lines echo the final paragraph of Loving v. Virginia, the case in which the Supreme Court threw out laws banning interracial marriage in 1967.

"Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival," Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote then.

And the passage is also reminiscent of the conclusion of Griswold v. Connecticut, an important case from 1965 on contraception among married couples.

"Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred," Justice William O. Douglas argued. "It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions."

PostTV captured the scene at the Supreme Court as the justices ruled, 5 to 4, that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. (Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)