By Claire Parker
They stand in front of San Francisco City Hall, five hours after the landmark Supreme Court decisions on Wednesday that changed their lives. They are beaming. Desiree wears purple, the color most often associated with gay rights. Trinity’s left hand rests on Desiree’s shoulder, while in her right, she holds a sign saying “The love we commit to each other must be equal.”
Trinity Ordona and Desiree Thompson have been married for 25 years. But only after today will their union stand up in a California court of law. And only after today will they receive the same legal benefits as their straight counterparts.
People throughout the nation reacted with a wide range of emotions to the Supreme Court rulings striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and effectively overturning California’s Proposition 8, opening the door to greater rights and marriage equality for same-sex couples in the United States.
“It gave us rights, which means that I will be able to get married someday, which is very happy for me,” said a young woman celebrating in San Francisco’s Castro District, who identified herself as Molly.
Details of the DOMA decision
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to overturn DOMA, giving legally married same-sex couples equal rights under the law, allowing them to receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples do. The Supreme Court declared DOMA unconstitutional on the grounds that the Act violates the Fifth Amendment. The due process clause of the Fifth Amendment states that “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote, as reported by The New York Times. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
Kennedy was backed by liberal justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Opposing them were Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
The ruling will mean that same-sex couples can no longer be denied the legal rights granted to opposite-sex couples, such as retirement and health insurance benefits. According to the Human Rights Campaign, gay couples living in states where same-sex marriage is legal will receive full federal rights and benefits. However, it is still unclear what benefits and rights will be received by legally married gay couples who are living in states that do not recognize their unions.
Supreme Court defers to lower court on Prop 8
For California Proposition 8, the Supreme Court asserted that the appeal of the Ninth U.S. District Court of Appeals’ decision to overturn the proposition had no standing. As a result, the ruling on Proposition 8 reverts back to the district court’s decision, thus legalizing same-sex marriage in California. Same-sex couples in California can begin obtaining marriage licenses on July 21st, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Though the decision in Prop 8 was also 5-4, the justices were split differently than in the DOMA decision, with the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts and backed by justices Scalia, Kagan, Breyer and Ginsburg.
Reaction across the nation and on social media
As news of the decisions emerged, celebrations broke out in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., City Hall in San Francisco, and across the nation. President Barack Obama, while flying to Senegal aboard Air Force One, called DOMA plaintiff Edith Windsor to congratulate her on her victory.
“I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people,” said Obama in his statement . “The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal — and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook experienced a huge influx of comments from people around the world on the rulings. Celebrities, such as Lady Gaga and Leonardo DiCaprio, used Twitter as an outlet to voice their support for marriage equality.
San Franciscans react
In San Francisco, former Mayor Gavin Newsom, who made the decision in 2004 to allow gay couples to marry, addressed a crowd at City Hall that had gathered eagerly, awaiting the rulings since early Wednesday morning. He congratulated marriage equality activists on their success, and thanked them for their hard work.
“It was a true commitment to equality that brought us here,” Newsom said in a news video published by the local ABC affiliate. “We’re not motivated by this cause of equality, we’re inspired by it, because it is a fundamental principle that defines who we are, our human dignity, our self-worth, our humanity.”
San Franciscans, especially many same-sex couples, celebrated throughout the day in the Castro District, which is famous for being a predominantly gay neighborhood and the epicenter of the gay rights movement.
Jerry Deal, dressed in a lacy white wedding dress, said the marriage equality brought about by the rulings today “affects me and it affects actually the world, because this is a step forward not just for California and for San Francisco, but for the world.
“We lead the world in what is right, and this is what’s right. Here we have the freedom to marry and the rights that everyone should have,” Deal said.
Not all reactions to the rulings were positive. Opponents of same-sex marriage reacted with disappointment, and vowed to continue to fight to preserve traditional marriage laws.
“A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a statement released by his office. Boehner helped fund the defense of DOMA. Republican candidates in the 2016 presidential race will need to ensure that marriage remains a topic of national debate in order to be serious candidates, according to Politico.
“Any Republican who runs for president will have to support this position. He will lose in the primary if he does not. Period,” Brian Brown, the head of the National Organization for Marriage, told Politico.
In a dissenting opinion in the DOMA case, Justice Scalia expressed his view that the court had overstepped its role and boundaries. He wrote that the language used in the majority opinion overturning DOMA was too harsh.
“It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it … enemies of the human race,” wrote Scalia.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie called the decisions “just another example of judicial supremacy.”
While some religious groups, including the National Cathedral, support same-sex marriage and today’s rulings, others expressed their dissatisfaction. Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan said “Today is a tragic day for marriage and our nation. The common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth that marriage is between a man and a woman. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to witness to this truth.”
Although an array of differences in opinion on the two rulings exists, it is clear that all Americans will experience the effects of the monumental marriage equality decisions that were handed down on Wednesday. The last few decades have brought about a rapid shift in American culture and public opinion. According to a Gallup poll, in 1997 only 27 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage, compared to 53 percent in 2013.
Alexandra Hsieh and Gautami Sharma contributed reporting.