In a historic day for gay rights, the Supreme Court gave the nation’s legally married gay couples equal federal footing with all other married Americans on Wednesday and also cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.
In deciding its first cases on the issue, the high court did not issue the sweeping declaration sought by gay rights advocates that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry anywhere in the country. But in two rulings, both by bare 5-4 majorities, the justices gave gay marriage supporters encouragement in confronting the nationwide patchwork of laws that outlaw such unions in roughly three dozen states.
Gay-rights supporters cheered and hugged outside the court. Opponents said they mourned the rulings and vowed to keep up their fight.
In the first of the narrow rulings in its final session of the term, the court wiped away part of a federal anti-gay marriage law, the Defense of Marriage Act, that has kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits that are otherwise available to married couples.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by the four liberal justices, said the purpose of the law was to impose a disadvantage and “a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states.”
President Barack Obama praised the court’s ruling against the federal marriage act, labeling the law “discrimination enshrined in law.”
“It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people,” Obama said in a statement. “The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he was disappointed in the outcome of the federal marriage case and hoped states continue to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Boehner, as speaker, had stepped in as the main defender of the law before the court after the Obama administration declined to defend it.
The other case, dealing with California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, was resolved by an unusual lineup of justices in a technical legal fashion that said nothing about gay marriage. But the effect was to leave in place a trial court’s declaration that California’s Proposition 8 ban was unconstitutional. Gov. Jerry Brown quickly ordered that marriage licenses be issued to gay couples as soon as a federal appeals court lifts its hold on the lower court ruling. That will take least 25 days, the appeals court said.
State amendment looms
Supporters of same-sex marriage may be celebrating Wednesday’s rulings as a victory for marriage equality, but key Republican leaders in the Indiana Statehouse see it much differently.
Instead of halting the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, top GOP legislative leaders say the court has cleared the way for the legislature to move forward on putting the state’s current law prohibiting same-sex marriage into the state constitution.
Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma said he’s “confident” the state’s proposed marriage-ban constitutional amendment will be approved by the Indiana General Assembly next year and sent on to voters for their approval, despite potential legal challenges and independent polling that shows most Hoosiers no longer support it.
“I am certainly pleased the Supreme Court has confirmed each state’s right to address the legal issue of what constitutes one of the most important institutions in our society,” Bosma said in a statement released Wednesday, after the court’s rulings on two major marriage-equality cases.
Indiana Senate President David Long echoed Bosma, saying while the court struck down key provisions in the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional, it left intact, with a second ruling on a California case, the right of states to determine how to define marriage.
Long said: “I fully anticipate that both the (Indiana) Senate and House will be voting on a marriage amendment next session.”
As for local legislators, State Sens. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, and Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, both declined to comment personally, and instead deferred to Long’s statement.
State Representative Wes Culver (R-Goshen) issued a statement Wednesday echoing Long’s statement.
“Although I am disappointed in the Supreme Court’s overturn of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, I am pleased that the court affirmed each state’s right to address this issue,” Culver said. “Even though I have my own beliefs that marriage should be between one man and one woman, I believe this is an issue that Hoosiers themselves need to voice their opinion on. I would like to see this issue progress through the General Assembly and the matter placed on a referenda ballot for Hoosiers to decide.”
A day for celebration
The emotions are still raw for Michelle Marquis. It can be heard in her voice when she recounts the 2009 effort of a group she helped lead in unsuccessfully adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Goshen’s civil rights ordinance.
“It was quite an event, said Marquis. “I’ll leave it at that.”
But Wednesday brought forth a much different set of emotions.
“There were tears immediately,” said Marquis when she saw the news stream in through social media. “It’s a day I never thought I’d see.”
The celebration, Marquis admitted, will quickly be subdued as work begins to defeat an all but certain push by Indiana’s GOP leaders to get a gay marriage ban amendment in the state’s constitution.
“Today is a day to contemplate all the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into it,” said Marquis. “But going forward. More discussions will need to be had with neighbors, friends and loved ones.”
The biggest takeaway for Marquis, who said she became vocal in 2009 because “equality just makes sense”, is what this may mean to gay people who feel like outcasts.
“I hope the message of today reaches that person sitting alone in their room by themselves feeling hopeless and alone. The most important message from today is love. And I hope that loves reaches those people.”
A day for reflection
More than 50 people attended an ecumenical Christian service Wednesday evening at the Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning the constitutionality of gay marriage.
“We see God’s spirit at work in the movement against discrimination, breaking down the walls that divide us, and that is worthy of celebration,” said co-pastor Karl Shelly. “The Apostle Paul says the work of Christ is to break down the walls that divide us and we are celebrating the decision to break down the walls that divide equality in marriage. God is doing a new thing.”
Kevin DeBeck of Elkhart looked around the filled room, and smiled.
“It’s fantastic. I’m very happy where we live to have this turnout to celebrate what happened today,” DeBeck said. “In my mind, it’s (the ruling) allowing people to marry who they love and in the end that makes everybody more free. You should be allowed to marry who you love, regardless of the gender. They removed some of the barriers and hope it’s like a domino effect.”
Pastor Jennifer Gingerich said she’s very grateful for the rulings.
“I feel a lot of hope for progress towards equality for all people. I look out and see the amount of people. It will mean healing and opportunity for them,” Gingerich said. “I am filled with joy and gratitude.”
Goshen News reporters Maureen Hayden, Sherry Van Arsdall and Daniel Riordan contributed to this story.