A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that it is unconstitutional for states to ban all public displays of affection or even affectionate expressions such as kissing and touching.
In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the government can ban public displays that promote a sexual interest without being punished by the First Amendment.
It also rejected the argument that the ban violates the federal Equal Protection Clause, which prohibits states from favoring one class of people over another.
“The First Amendment prohibits government from punishing citizens for their sexual orientation,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority, which included the court’s nine conservative justices.
“For the most part, we have held that the federal government cannot prohibit citizens from expressing romantic feelings for others, or from expressing affection toward one another in public,” she wrote.
The ruling means that states have until next year to decide whether to continue their bans.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can prohibit “promoting” or “exploiting” homosexuality.
The court also rejected a challenge by gay rights groups that the ruling violated the Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment, which protects against discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion or national origin.