In a landmark opinion, a divided Supreme Court ruled Friday that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, establishing a new civil right and handing gay rights advocates a victory that until very recently would have seemed unthinkable.

The 5-4 ruling had Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority with the four liberal justices. Each of the four conservative justices wrote their own dissent.

The far-reaching decision settles one of the major civil rights fights of this era — one that has rapidly evolved in the minds of the American public and its leaders, including President Barack Obama. He struggled with the issue and ultimately embraced same-sex marriage in the months before his 2012 re-election.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” Kennedy wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.”

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