Gay Marriage Decision Thunders Across U.S.

Courthouse News reporters Tim Ryan, Kevin Lessmiller and Sabrina Canfield contributed to this developing story.

     (CN) – Celebrations erupted across the country Friday as news rang out in Washington that the Supreme Court struck down state laws banning gay marriage.
     “For me, it’s a right,” Jeremy Dillard said outside the courthouse Friday.
     “I’m a disabled veteran, I fought for my country, and frankly I want to marry who ever the hell I want to marry,” said Dillard, a D.C. resident who hails from Arkansas. “That’s not how I view faith, so this is what I want.”
     Today’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges comes two years after the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act with U.S. v. Windsor.
     Though the Supreme Court was silent in Windsor about whether the definition of marriage should be left to the states, federal courts in turn used that decision as precedent for overturning state bans against same-sex marriage.
     The Sixth Circuit, which hears appeals from federal courts in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee, created a circuit split in upholding state laws banning same-sex marriage.
     Friday’s majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy paid tribute to the case’s lead named plaintiff, James Obergefell whose partner of 20 years, John Arthur, died of ALS while their challenge was pending.
     “Ohio law does not permit Obergefell to be listed as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate,” Kennedy wrote. “By statute, they must remain strangers even in death, a state-imposed separation Obergefell deems ‘hurtful for the rest of time.'”
     The White House released an open letter from Obergefell on the heels of Friday’s decision.
     “I can finally relax knowing that Ohio can never erase our marriage from John’s death certificate, and my husband can now truly rest in peace,” Obergefell wrote.
          April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, the couple behind the challenge of Michigan’s law, noted that the decision is a much-appreciated relief for their family of six.
     “For years, our 5-year-old daughter has been asking us when ‘we’ are getting married, meaning the whole family,” Rowse said, according to a statement from the National Marriage Challege. “We all thought it was cute, but she’s honestly more astute than many politicians in recognizing the importance of marriage for uniting a family.”
     President Barack Obama took to Twitter to recognize the decision.
     “Today is a big step in our march toward equality,” Obama wrote. “Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else. #LoveWins”
     U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat who represents the Nashville area in Congress, used more exclamation points in his Twitter post. “Love and equality win! I’m glad the Supreme Court ruled on the right side of history!” Cooper tweeted.
     With Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery expected to announce licensing procedures this afternoon, WSMV reported that county clerks received orders to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
     Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said the state will comply with the ruling despite what he says are the wishes of the majority of its citizens.
     “The people of Tennessee have recently voted clearly on this issue. The Supreme Court has overturned that vote,” Haslam said in a statement. “We will comply with the decision and will ensure that our departments are able to do so as quickly as possible.”
     Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes meanwhile promised action.
     “Tennesseans overwhelmingly voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman,” Haynes said in a statement. “If a change was to be made, it should have been allowed to play out through the democratic process but, unfortunately, today’s judicial activism short-circuits that ability. While this has long been pushed by the Democrats’ agenda, the issue is far from settled.”     
     Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell voiced his disappointment with the decision as well, saying it “overturns the will of the people of Louisiana, and it takes away a right that should have been left to the state.”
     While Caldwell slammed the decision as “yet another example of the federal government intrusion into what should be a state issue,” his office showed no hurry in falling into line.
     As of now there is “not a legal requirement for officials to issue marriage licenses or perform marriages for same-sex couples in Louisiana,” the office said in a statement.

     The Family Research Council sent a similar message outside the Supreme Court in Washington.
     “No matter what happens we’re going to continue fighting for religious freedom and for natural marriage,” Arina Grossu, a spokeswoman for the group said.
     The Tennessee Equality Project called “on the state of Tennessee through all its government agencies and the 95 county clerks in our state to stop enforcing the ban.”
     “There is no legal authority for denying or delaying equal protection of the law for these couples,” the group warned on its Facebook page. “We will monitor and address any resistance to the court’s ruling.”
     Nashville Mayor Karl Dean meanwhile said Friday’s decision aligns with his belief that “all people should be treated fairly and equally and that everyone’s individual dignity should be respected.”
     Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey gave the counter-position in a Facebook post Friday.
     “The Supreme Court today issued an unfortunate and fundamentally wrong opinion,” he wrote. “In 2006, not even a decade ago, over 80% of Tennessee voters issued a strong mandate in favor of traditional marriage. Today, the Supreme Court declared that mandate null and void.
     “While the Supreme Court did not stand up for traditional marriage, this decision does not end the institution. The federal government may have the ability to force Tennessee to recognize same-sex unions but it cannot and will not change the hearts and minds of conservatives and traditionalists in Tennessee and elsewhere.”
     In Missouri, so far, Attorney General Chris Koster has announced only that he dismissed the state’s appeals to the Eighth Circuit and the Missouri Supreme Court.
     The American Civil Liberties Union released statements from the Missouri couple it represented.
     “It is gratifying that now other same-sex couples will be able to enjoy the emotional, legal and financial security that marriage has given our family and, in particular, our young daughter,” Jim MacDonald and Andy Schuerman said. “The laws of our country are now in sync with the general public’s acceptance of marriage equality.”
     Angela Curtis and Shannon McGinty said the decision takes them out of “limbo” so that they can set a date.
     “We are ecstatic, not only for ourselves, but for all Missouri couples who will no longer have to wait to marry in their home state,” the couple said.
     Attorney General Loretta Lynch applauded the high court for “putting an end to an era of state-sanctioned discrimination.”
     “It vindicates an idea whose time has come at last,” Lynch added.
     Paying homage to the movement’s roots in the Stonewall riots, Lynch lamented how many “lifetimes of isolation, humiliation and harassment” it took to awaken the nation’s conscience.
     “I have no illusions that Obergefell v. Hodges spells the end of anti-gay prejudice,” Lynch said. “Difficult legal issues lie ahead and the protections written into law are not all they should be. That’s why this march must go on and why this cause will endure, until all Americans – regardless of sexual orientation – are afforded the equal rights, equal treatment and equal opportunity they deserve.”
     Despite that somber reflection, Lynch called on Americans to “pause and take stock of just how far we have come.”
     “Going forward, we [at the Justice Department] are committed to standing on the side of equality – and standing with the LGBT community – to keep up the fight for safety, opportunity, dignity and justice for all,” Lynch added.
     Carrying a sign with the slogan Catholics for Equality outside the courthouse, Phil Attey said today’s decision is “more emotional this time than Windsor, on both sides.”
     “I’ve been viscerally attacked by conservative Catholics who want to say they represent our faith community, but at the same time I had a woman come up to me crying when she saw my sign,” Attey said. “She never in her life thought, growing up Catholic as a lesbian that she would ever see a sign like that. And it was just beautiful. I just hugged her and she was just weeping. That’s why I’m here, it’s important for LGBT and especially LGBT Catholics to know that our faith community – even if our hierarchy doesn’t support them, our faith community does.”
     Brian Peterson called it a “proud day to be LGBT.”
     “It’s just something that I never thought I would even see 10 years ago, coming from Boise, Idaho, where you’re still discriminated against for being an individual,” said Peterson, who lives in Washington. “And now being at the steps of the Supreme Court for this moment is just… I’m so happy to be here, I’m so happy for America, I’m so happy for this issue to be over.”
     Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, also spoke about the singularity of today’s decision.
     “The overwhelming change in public opinion regarding marriage equality is astonishing, even to those of us who have worked on LGBT rights for decades,” Mittman said in a statement.
     Nancy Northrop, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that the ruling “marks a truly historic moment for equality, liberty, and personal freedom.”
     “It is the promise of the U.S. Constitution that we have a fundamental right to build the life, family, and future we choose, free from discrimination and interference, no matter where we live,” Northrop said.

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