Ruling on same-sex marriage celebrated outside Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry in the United States, setting off a cascade of celebrations for gay rights advocates who declared “love won” and prompting opponents to describe the decision as an assault on religious freedom.
The 5-4 ruling means same-sex couples are free to continue to wed in North Carolina, as several thousand have done since October, gay rights advocates say. It also means that North Carolina must recognize gay marriages from other states.
The decision, as historic as it was, brought a somewhat more muted reaction in North Carolina than last Oct. 10, when two federal judges overturned a statewide ban and register of deeds offices stayed open late in some counties to issue the first legal N.C. marriage licenses to couples of the same sex.
But at the LGBT Center of Raleigh, gay rights supporters uncorked champagne bottles and celebrated with bubbly drinks and breakfast pastries shortly after 10 a.m. Friday, when the ruling was announced. Planning picked up for a big party in the evening at Motorco in Durham.
Jim Manchester, 62, was at the downtown Raleigh center, watching a live Supreme Court blog that has become very popular this month with people awaiting the landmark decision.
“I saw the word marriage and I cried a little bit,” Manchester said, his voice wavering and tears welling. “I never thought this would happen in my lifetime.”
Gay rights advocates and critics of same-sex marriage have been in a state of suspense for weeks, with the high-court justices pushing toward the end of their session.
At issue in the landmark cases were two key questions:
▪ Does the Constitution require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
▪ If same-sex couples marry in a state where gay marriage is legal, must other states recognize their marriages?
Because gay marriage was legal in 36 states plus the District of Columbia before the Friday ruling – and because the cases selected dealt with states where bans had been upheld, not overturned – many expected the ruling that was issued. To do otherwise would have created a patchwork quilt of same-sex marriage laws across the nation.
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, a gay rights group, described Friday as “a historic day” for “tens of thousands of same-sex families who call our state home.”
“Today, love won and we celebrate all who have worked tirelessly over many decades to change hearts and minds and make this ruling a possibility,” Sgro said.
N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County, and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, issued a joint statement shortly after the ruling.
“The majority of North Carolina voters who define marriage as between one man and one woman deserved a final resolution from the Supreme Court,” Berger and Moore said. “While this decision is disappointing, we respect the ruling and will continue to work to ensure North Carolina complies with the law of the land.”
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. He was joined by the court’s four more liberal justices.
The June 26 decision came on the same date that the nation’s high court issued its ruling two years ago extending federal benefits to married gay couples. The ruling also comes as public opinion has been fast-moving, with polls showing more and more support for same-sex unions.
Kennedy said gay and lesbian couples had a fundamental right to marry. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” Kennedy wrote in his opinion. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. – who was joined in dissent by Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas – said the Constitution had nothing to say on the subject.
Scalia described the majority opinion in his dissent as “pretentious as its content is egotistic,” with “showy profundities” he described as “profoundly incoherent.”
“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.” Scalia stated. He questioned whether intimacy and spirituality were freedoms. “And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.”
Almost instantly, “#AskTheNearestHippie” became a Twitter trend.
‘A bit overwhelming’
“My phone has not stopped dinging with email and texts,” said the Rev. Nancy Petty, an openly gay pastor of Raleigh’s Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, who got married in May. “So many of us never thought we would see this day. We always hoped it would come, and we thought maybe it would come for our children, or children’s children. ... The time it takes to really absorb that it has happened and what it all means, for some who’ve dreamed about it, it’s a bit overwhelming.”
As gay rights advocates planned parties to celebrate, critics of same-sex unions planned further protest.
“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court will no more settle the issue of gay marriage than Roe v. Wade settled the issue of abortion,” said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition. “This landmark decision will bring peril to family structure and stability and will threaten the religious liberties upon which our country was founded. We must guarantee that North Carolinians whose religious beliefs are violated by this decision will have the continuing freedom to act on their beliefs.”
It’s unclear how many marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples in North Carolina since the federal judges overturned the state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
North Carolinians approved Amendment One, the ban on same-sex unions, in May 2012. Though it was approved 61 percent to 39 percent, it was a low turnout election. Just 21 percent of the state’s registered voters cast ballots in favor of the change.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled two years ago in the landmark United States v. Windsor case that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits. But two major federal agencies, Social Security and Veterans Affairs, still had to look to the states to determine marital status.
The pro-marriage ruling puts same-sex couples on even ground with the rest of the married population when it comes to filing taxes and joint returns, estate planning and inheritance issues, veteran benefits, spousal medical decisions and even divorce.
N.C. magistrate law
Since the federal court rulings last fall, the N.C. legislature adopted a law that allows magistrates to refuse to perform gay marriages – a change adopted despite a veto by Gov. Pat McCrory.
Legal analysts say the Supreme Court ruling has no immediate effect on that law, though many expect a legal challenge.
Rep. Larry Hall, Democratic leader of the N.C. House, issued a statement critical of the magistrate law after the Supreme Court ruled.
“This Supreme Court’s decision is a victory for equality and we will remain vigilant in North Carolina to ensure that new legislation is not passed to allow discrimination on the behalf of a radical agenda for any reason,” Hall said. “Republicans legislated discrimination in Senate Bill 2 and created a safe haven for it.”
N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Democrat from Charlotte, expressed his thoughts in a tweet from his account.
“Btw, there’s no way this ruling is good for SB2. Start the clock,” Jackson tweeted.