- The Magazine
“It’s fucking awesome!”
Eighteen-year-old Austin Schmidt’s words may not have been as eloquent as many espoused over the course of that day, but as the Virginia native stood on Pennsylvania Avenue, staring at a White House aglow with the colors of the rainbow, “fucking awesome” seemed an entirely appropriate way of summarizing an incredible end to an historic day.
For millions of Americans, the sight of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue blazing with the colors of LGBT Pride was a bold confirmation that their love was finally, inexorably considered equal to their heterosexual counterparts. Love was love, no quantifiers, adjectives or addendums required.
On Friday, June 26, gay Americans in thirteen states woke, uncertain of what the future would hold. After a momentous, passionate, definitive ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States, they could climb into bed knowing that marriage equality was real, it was constitutional, and it was theirs.
It was a staggering change for a country that, just twelve years ago, still had laws criminalizing sex between gay and lesbian couples. Lawrence v. Texas, decided June 26, 2003, finally made sodomy laws illegal. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage — but far from starting a tidal wave of acceptance, it transpired to be a minor ripple in a seething pool of hatred. Opponents, cemented in their bigotry, ushered in marriage-equality bans throughout most of the country.
Gradually, however, grassroots campaigns, LGBT rights organizations, a proliferation of LGBT people on television and in film, and the simple fact that most people were guaranteed to know a gay person led to a shift in public opinion. By 2012, six states, plus the District of Columbia, had legalized same-sex marriage. Part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricted marriage definitions to heterosexual couples, had been repealed. Proposition 8 had been defeated in court and was headed to the Supreme Court justices for a final decision. Then, in May of that year, President Obama became the first sitting president to publicly declare support for marriage equality. It was a watershed moment.
Two years later, marriage bans were falling like dominoes, as federal courts ruled in favor of equality. In October of 2014, the Supreme Court rejected the appeals of five states that had found their bans ruled unconstitutional — at that point, as many states had marriage equality as had measures preventing it. When, this January, the Supreme Court declared that it would hear cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in four states, thirty-six plus D.C. already had marriage equality. What happened next was beyond belief for those who had lived through decades of marginalization, indifference during the AIDS crisis, and years of legislation aimed at reducing their relationships to second-class status.
Last Friday, in an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the right to same-sex marriage — or, as it will now forever be know, marriage — was affirmed in a majority ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges. Citing the same Fourteenth Amendment that had brought down sodomy laws over a decade ago, Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan declared marriage equality constitutional.
A conservative justice appointed during the Regan era, Kennedy has long been considered the court’s swing vote on the issue. In an impassioned opinion, he rebuffed several major arguments used by marriage equality opponents, particularly that marriage is traditionally a heterosexual union and should remain as such.
“To [equality opponents], it would demean a timeless institution if the concept and lawful status of marriage were extended to two persons of the same sex,” he wrote. “Marriage, in their view, is by its nature a gender-differentiated union of man and woman…. The petitioners acknowledge this history but contend that these cases cannot end there. Were their intent to demean the revered idea and reality of marriage, the petitioners’ claims would be of a different order. But that is neither their purpose nor their submission.
“Far from seeking to devalue marriage,” he continued, “the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect — and need — for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.”
Kennedy drew comparisons between same-sex marriage and Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated laws against interracial marriage. “The right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy,” he wrote. “This abiding connection between marriage and liberty is why Loving invalidated interracial marriage bans under the Due Process Clause.”
It’s his last paragraph that has generated the most support, emotion and column inches. Kennedy argued that same-sex couples want to marry in order to “become something greater than once they were.” He contended that “[it] would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.
“Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions,” he continued. “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
FOR JIM OBERGEFELL, Kennedy’s words were bittersweet. As plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, it was a decision he had waited two years for, when he first filed suit against Ohio and its same-sex marriage ban in July, 2013. Obergefell’s husband, John Arthur, whom he had married that year in Maryland, was terminally ill with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS. Both men wanted Ohio’s Registrar to recognize Obergefell as Arthur’s spouse on his death certificate — something prevented, because their marriage wasn’t recognized within Ohio’s borders. In October of that year, Arthur died — in a cruel legal move, the state’s attorneys tried to dismiss the case, claiming it was no longer relevant. District Judge Timothy S. Black refused, eventually finding in favor of Obergefell’s case and ruling that Ohio must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.
Unfortunately, the case was overturned by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Determined to validate his marriage to Arthur, Obergefell, along with same-sex couples in Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky, petitioned the Supreme Court to finally determine the validity of same-sex marriage. After two years, Jim Obergefell heard the words that his late husband hadn’t been able to — their marriage was legal, valid, and equal.
“My late husband John and I were together for almost 21 years before he passed away,” Obergefell said on the steps of the Supreme Court after the decision was handed down. “I’m here today…because my home state fought the recognition of my marriage to John. No American should have to suffer that indignity. That’s why John and I, and the 30 plaintiffs in this lawsuit, decided to fight.
“Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court affirms what millions across this country already know to be true in our hearts,” he continued. “Our love is equal. That the four words etched onto the front of the Supreme Court, ‘equal justice under law,’ applied to us, too.”
At the end of a statement that drew rapturous applause and cheers from an audience that has elevated him to become the face of the marriage equality fight, Jim Obergefell offered one last thought before he left to absorb the immensity of his victory.
“It’s my hope that the term ‘gay marriage’ will become a thing of the past,” he said. “And our nation will be better off because of it.”
Reaction to the landmark ruling was felt across the nation. On the steps of the Supreme Court, LGBT activists and allies had amassed, part of a daily ritual as they waited in anticipation of a positive decision. When it finally became aware that a decision was ready, as interns raced from the doors of the Court carrying copies, the tension was palpable. Standing in front of cameras, frantically flicking through a hastily assembled ruling — normally bound, they were instead A4 sheets stapled together, indicative of the lateness of the decision — journalists raced to break the news to viewers and readers around the country.
It wasn’t necessary. As they scanned the prepared documents, looking for the key facts of the decision, the crowd had already reached the conclusion: they’d won. An almighty roar broke out along First Street, signalling the start of a day of widespread celebration across America.
Forty-six years after New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn — which sparked the notorious riots as LGBT people objected to their lives being oppressed, leading to the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement — queer New Yorkers flocked to the historic (and officially designated) landmark to toast the momentous occasion. Who cared that it wasn’t even midday, it was five o’clock somewhere and there was marriage equality right now. Hundreds crammed into the bar, desperate to show their love, their support, their excitement for a decision that patrons forty years ago would never have hoped to expect.
“People are going to party in the streets,” Stacy Lentz, one of Stonewall’s owners, told The Guardian. “It’s an incredible day for us and for LGBT people around the world. America finally has marriage equality!”
Nothing could detract from the celebrations, not even the dissents of the four judges who opposed the Court’s ruling. When Justice Antonin Scalia’s objections were read out on CNN, Stonewall’s revellers toasted him — it was too joyous an occasion to care that he considered the ruling a “judicial Putsch.”
In Gayborhoods around the country, LGBT Americans spilled onto streets to dance, hug, kiss and laugh with one another. Impromptu parties took place in Greenwich Village, San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, West Hollywood, and of course in D.C. Bars overflowed with revellers, homes were opened up for friends and families to visit and celebrate, workplaces shut down as gay owners chose to forego a day of profits for a day of marking the affirmation of their equality.
At San Francisco City Hall, Mayor Ed Lee, triumphantly declared “At long last, marriage equality in the U.S.!” to a crowd as ebullient as that still revelling at the Supreme Court. “We started that movement right here when Gavin Newsom dared to marry loving same-sex couples right under this dome [in 2004, though marriages were halted and later invalidated by California’s Supreme Court]…. We are proud of our city leading the nation and even the world on this issue.”
Social media exploded with photos, videos and messages of surprise and delight, but it was Snapchat that best captured America’s reactions. Its ephemeral nature, used to document music festivals, sporting events, and daily life in cities around the world — as well as a variety of more mundane individual events — finally proved its worth as a special Marriage Equality story became available for contributions. Snippets flowed in, available to watch around the world, as America’s gays cried and cheered and basked in their moment. From a mother and daughter in tears, as the former realizes she can one day attend the latter’s wedding, to a couple celebrating the validity of their union across the nation, to those on streets waving rainbow flags and screaming in joy, it was a beautiful snapshot of emotion from all walks of gay life — and was delivered to those living in countries where gay rights are still a daily struggle, a digital hug and confirmation that it really does get better.
FOR THOUSANDS OF couples, the Supreme Court’s decision also offered a wonderful opportunity. In those thirteen states where marriage equality had hung on the outcome of the ruling, doors at county clerk offices were thrown open, welcoming couples to finally collect something many had waited years for: a marriage license.
Thousands waited, breath bated, as governors gradually issued statements over the course of the day, confirming that their states would comply with the Court’s ruling.
“The fractured laws across the country concerning same-sex marriage had created an unsustainable and unbalanced legal environment…. That situation was unfair, no matter which side of the debate you may support,” Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said. “Effective today, Kentucky will recognize as valid all same-sex marriages performed in other states and in Kentucky.”
Nebraska’s governor was less diplomatic in his speech, deliberately noting the imbalance between the court’s rulings, and the overwhelming majority who voted for the state’s constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage in 2000. He stated that “70 percent of Nebraskans approved our amendment,” but acknowledged that “the highest court in the land has ruled states cannot place limits on marriage between same-sex couples. We will follow the law and respect the ruling outlined by the court.”
In Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon — a Democrat — couldn’t hide his joy at the Supreme Court’s ruling. Calling it “a major victory for equality and an important step toward a fairer and more just society for all Americans,” Nixon — who faces a Republican-controlled General Assembly that was unlikely to legislate favorably on marriage equality — was eager to implement the changes in his state. “No one should be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love,” he said. “In the coming days, I will be taking all necessary and appropriate actions to ensure this decision is implemented throughout the state of Missouri.”
As news trickled down to states, counties, cities and towns, judges and court officials cleared their schedules. Once they received confirmation from superiors that they were free to do so, licenses were issued and marriage ceremonies started. Across the country, couples poured into government buildings, eager to finally say “I do.”
Perhaps the day’s most endearing ceremony took place in Dallas County, Texas. The first wedding of the day, the happy couple had waited a long time for their special day. A really long time. Jack Evans, 85, and George Harris, 82, have been together for more than fifty years, since meeting in Dallas in 1961. “George and I met at a party and we were the last ones to leave together. We haven’t slept apart since,” Evans told the BBC.
Speaking with Kera News, Harris was overcome with the outpouring of support they received. “I’m excited to see so many people down here. Love is everywhere, and that’s a great thing,” he said. “We’d never thought we’d see the day. We’re very excited and we’ve waited a long time for it.” Both men joked to onlookers that their marriage license was the “best $90 we ever spent.”
Neither man could quite believe that marriage equality had finally arrived. “Not in my lifetime,” is when Evans thought it would happen, according to the BBC. “Ten years ago, this is something that we couldn’t even imagine. We thought it would never get to Texas.”
In Fulton County, Georgia, a mass wedding ceremony was held at the county courthouse, with couples invited to marry, complete with a cake, photographer and countless supportive onlookers. According to Creative Loafing, Jerry Hill jokingly texted his partner, Boyd Beckwith, that they should go down and get married now that it was legal. “Sure. Let’s go at lunchtime,” was the response. They joined dozens of other couples who lined up to get their licenses and exchange vows.
For Emma Foulkes and Petrina Bloodworth, history was made twice that day. Not only could they now get married, they ultimately became the first couple in Fulton County do so. Rather than wait any longer, the couple of ten years agreed to collect their license and share their vows as soon as possible. “We were going to run someplace else and get married,” Foulkes said, when it seemed as though marriage equality would never reach Georgia. “But our son was in college and we wanted him to be home to see this. And we wanted to see the country move in the right direction.” Their wait paid off, with son Raimius able to witness the ceremony. “It feels really, really good to see their love and commitment to each other validated,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
IT WASN’T SUCH a joyous day for everyone, however. When Bobbi Gray and Celeste Swain arrived at the Harrison County, Mississippi clerk’s office, they were quickly reminded that while the Supreme Court’s ruling was universal, that didn’t mean it was immediate.
“The Supreme Court’s decision is not immediately effective in Mississippi,” said Attorney General Jim Hood in a statement. “It will become effective in Mississippi and circuit clerks will be required to issue same-sex marriage licenses when the 5th Circuit lifts the stay of Judge Reeves’ order. This could come quickly or may take several days.”
“We’re pretty deflated,” Swain told The Clarion-Ledger. “I’m looking at Mississippi wanting to wave the ‘Hi, we’re in last place’ flag again. Alabama is issuing licenses, Tennessee … I’m sort of speechless.”
By Monday, Hood had reversed his position. He stated in an email to clerks that he “[seemed] to have been misinterpreted as prohibiting Circuit Clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The statement was merely meant to explain that an order of the Fifth Circuit would be necessary to lift the stay.” Hood said that if clerks had issued, or began to issue marriage licenses, they would not be prosecuted by the AG’s office. However, Governor Phil Bryant opposes the Fifth Circuit lifting their stay, and is currently considering filing a motion to prevent it from doing so, according to his spokesperson.
What’s more, he’s not alone. As conservative governors watched their states embrace marriage equality, their frustration was vented in statements declaring opposition to a legally binding ruling. Texas’ Greg Abbott decried the ruling as “an unelected nine-member legislature… [imposing] on the entire county their personal views.” He intimated that he would instruct state agencies “to prioritize the protection of Texans’ religious liberties.”
On Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the Supreme Court lawless, and demanded that the state’s agencies “respect and preserve Texans’ religious liberties,” echoing Abbott’s earlier statement.
“The government must never pressure a person to abandon or violate his or her sincerely held religious beliefs regarding a topic such as marriage,” Paxton wrote in a memo to state employees.
“This newly minted federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage can and should peaceably coexist with longstanding constitutional and statutory rights, including the rights to free exercise of religion and freedom of speech,” Paxton continued.
Of course, Paxton and Abbott failed miserably to prevent anything. Despite their objections, Texas’ clerks have been marrying same-sex couples since Friday’s Supreme Court ruling. However, any clerks that have personally objected to issuing licenses will be defended against fines by Paxton’s office free-of-charge. It’s a last-ditch attempt from a man whose personal views are now clouding his decision-making: he will help defend employees who deliberately flout the law for personal reasons.
Meanwhile, in Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal was forced into a climbdown after thumping his chest and declaring his opposition to the ruling.
“The Supreme Court decision today conveniently and not surprisingly follows public opinion polls, and tramples on states’ rights that were once protected by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution,” said Jindal, a renowned opponent of marriage equality and LGBT rights, on Friday. “Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that…. The government should not force those who have sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage to participate in these ceremonies…. I will never stop fighting for religious liberty and I hope our leaders in D.C. join me.”
On Monday, Louisiana began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
A defeated Jindal told NBC News on Sunday, “We don’t have a choice. Our agencies will comply with the court order.” The state’s attorney general, Buddy Caldwell, had previously stated that he “found nothing in today’s decision that makes the Court’s order effective immediately.” Officials in New Orleans disagreed and, after reviewing the ruling, issued a marriage license to Michael Robinson and Earl Benjamin, who have been together for 14 years. They are believed to be the state’s first same-sex marriage, TIME Magazine reports.
GIVEN THAT EVERY state in America is now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, it begs the question of what is left for marriage equality opponents? If the Supreme Court ended the loudest argument they have, is there any room for further opposition?
Of course there is — Fox News needs those ratings, after all.
Let’s start with the four dissenting opinions of the Supreme Court justices. Not since Bush v. Gore in 2000 have four judges each written their own opinion — a sign of how divided the court was over the issue.
In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts complained that, by securing marriage equality through the Supreme Court, advocates had somehow lost their opportunity to gain it through other methods. “It is worth acknowledging what they have lost, and lost forever,” he wrote, “the opportunity to win the true acceptance that comes from persuading their fellow citizens of the justice of their cause.”
Of course, in states such as Texas and Louisiana, how long would said acceptance have taken to win? How long would African American citizens have had to wait before they could convince everyone in the South that their marriage to a white person was valid and true, had Loving v. Virginia not validated interracial marriage?
“Supporters of same-sex marriage have achieved considerable success persuading their fellow citizens — through the democratic process — to adopt their view,” Roberts continued. “That ends today. Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”
Replace every mention of same-sex marriage with interracial marriage, and try not to oppose Roberts’ words.
Of course, it was Justice Antonin Scalia who has endured the most criticism for his withering derision of the majority opinion.
“The substance of today’s decree is not of immense personal importance to me,” he wrote. “It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.” Something, it should be noted, he has no issue with when he is part of the majority decision.
Scalia slammed the majority opinion as “lacking even a thin veneer of law,” and blasted “the mummeries and straining-to-be-memorable passages,” as well as amusingly calling parts “pure applesauce” and “jiggery pokery.” He added that “The five Justices who compose today’s majority are entirely comfortable concluding that every State violated the Constitution for all of the 135 years between the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification and Massachusetts’ permitting of same-sex marriages in 2003.” He concluded that the decision was so damaging to the court’s reputation that it reduced the value of its rulings to “the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”
But while Scalia was spouting gibberish, Justice Samuel Alito was producing some worryingly ill-advised quotes in his dissent. While he wrote that same-sex marriage “lacks deep roots,” he also dredged up another argument used to defend marriage: that it’s for procreation.
“For millennia, marriage was inextricably linked to the one thing that only an opposite-sex couple can do: procreate,” Alito wrote. “If this traditional understanding of the purpose of marriage does not ring true to all ears today, that is probably because the tie between marriage and procreation has frayed. Today, for instance, more than 40% of all children in this country are born to unmarried women.”
It is now apparently unwed mothers’ faults that we have same-sex marriage. But that’s not all, as Alito also included a passage which again would sound terrible to most rational Americans if we swap same-sex marriage with racism.
“I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes,” he wrote, “but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”
Yes, Justice Alito, they should be labelled as bigots. Just as a person who whispers racist sentiments in their home, or repeats them in a public place, is a racist. Or who slanders women at home or in public is sexist.
While the dissents of the four justices were mostly ignored on the day in favor of Kennedy’s majority opinion, as the LGBT community celebrated, right-wing America was seething. Fox News, according to Salon, floundered for a few hours after the decision was announced before lining up a host of conservative pundits and contributors to discuss the various failings of the ruling.
“What [the Supreme Court] did was not rule on marriage equality. What they did was redefine marriage,” Mike Huckabee, Republican candidate for President told Megyn Kelly. “And there is a fundamental difference. Their decision was a political decision, it was not a legal one.”
Earlier that day, Huckabee called the court’s “flawed, failed decision…an out-of-control act of unconstitutional judicial tyranny.” He was joined by the rest of the Republican field for President, who refused to let go of their opposition to marriage equality.
“Today, 5 unelected judges redefined the foundational unit of society. Now it is the people’s turn to speak,” wrote Rick Santorum, while Ted Cruz called it “judicial activism at its worst.”
“Guided by my faith, I believe in traditional marriage. I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision,” Jeb Bush said. However, he also called for a level of tolerance between opposing parties, adding, “I also believe that we should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments. In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side.”
“While I disagree with this decision, we live in a republic and must abide by the law,” said Marco Rubio, the youngest contender for the Republican nomination. He similarly called for tolerance on the issue from both sides, while emphasizing his support for religious freedom. “Not every American has to agree on every issue, but all of us do have to share our country…. In the years ahead, it is my hope that each side will respect the dignity of the other.”
While many Republicans seethed, it was anti-gay groups that chose the strongest rhetoric, with references to 9/11 a disturbingly popular theme.
Tim Wildmon, of the American Family Association, stated that he wasn’t surprised, but was “extremely disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision.” He said that he feared for the country, “because this is a spiritual 9/11, I believe. We have said to God Almighty, we don’t care what you say about marriage and your definition of what’s natural and normal.”
American Family Radio’s Bryan Fischer declared that, “[f]rom a moral standpoint, 6/26 is the new 9/11. He called the five majority justices “moral jihadists,” and claimed that they “became rainbow jihadists and they blasted the twin pillars of truth and righteousness into rubble.”
The National Center for Policy Analysis’ Allen West hypothesized that the marriage ruling could lead to a new Civil War. “The Supreme Court is essentially saying individuals have civil rights based on their sexual behavior,” he wrote, calling it “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Matt Barber, writing on BarbWire.com, called it a “homo-fascist decision,” and that “the Supreme Court of the United States has just declared that reality and biology no longer exist, and we can now declare marriage to be whatever we want it to be.”
NONE OF THOSE negative reactions mattered to those gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court. Gay America wasn’t going to let the bitter delusions of the religious right, who were protected by the First Amendment from any incursion into their places of worship by the ruling, from spoiling their enjoyment of marriage equality being realized.
Instead, among the HRC banners, pride flags, t-shirts, news crews, signs, dancing, and joyous, embracing couples, individual stories filtered through, as everyone in the crowd contemplated the impact of the ruling on their daily lives.
For Stacey Simmons, a Connecticut native, it was vindication that her efforts hadn’t been for naught. She had camped out in front of the Court in a sleeping bag to ensure she would get a seat inside the courtroom for the reading.
“I decided yesterday morning,” she said. “I had been following SCOTUSBlog on Thursday, and obviously, we didn’t have the decision. And I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I decided to come down. I left at about 2 o’clock from Connecticut. I hit horrendous rain, lightning, and got here about 10 o’clock. I’ve worked really hard and been a part of this movement, and wanted to be a part of history.”
When she learned that the justices had ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, Simmons had a hard time holding back her emotions. “I was crying. I had to cover my mouth. I had tears rolling down my face. It was so emotional, just so validating.” In more ways than one, it would transpire: Simmons had been estranged from her parents after they couldn’t handle her coming out, but marriage equality offered a chance to reconnect.
“When I came out of the Supreme Court, the minute I walked outside, my phone was ringing,” she recalls. “It was my mom. And I picked up the phone and talked to her, and I was weeping. And the fact that she was calling me, to congratulate me, 25 years later, it still means a lot.”
Jayme Worrell drove from Virginia with her teenage son and young daughter to celebrate the decision. For Worrell, as a mom, the ruling was validation for the future of her son, a transgender male.
“We have a dog in this fight. We have a stake in this,” she said. “My kid is the same as anyone else’s child. He’s a good kid…. [This is] a time for people to educate themselves. To learn, to go beyond their prejudices and not be afraid of each other.”
Of the ruling itself, Worrell was mindful of the building she stood next to. “This is historic. The words on that building say it, ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ That’s what America was established on…. That’s all that we’re asking for, equality. We’re not asking for special treatment, we’re just asking for the same treatment that everyone else has.”
The momentous nature of the decision wasn’t lost on the younger members of the crowd, either.
“I’ve known I was gay since I was 5 years old,” said Anthony Orso, a 21-year-old student from Missouri. “I came out when I was 16, which is still quite young, especially for a suburban kid in a very Republican area.”
For Orso, knowing he can now freely marry when the time is right is something he doesn’t take for granted. “As a gay man, to have the option to be who I am is very nice. I don’t have to have a nation tell me what I can and can’t do because of something I can’t change.”
He also touched upon an issue raised by many that day: what’s left for the gay rights movement? Where does it go after marriage equality?
“I feel like a lot of nonprofits and organizations are going to have to reposition themselves, whether that’s employment nondiscrimination, basic things like transgender rights,” Orso continued. “The gay community is definitely going to have to reposition itself on those issues.”
Indeed, that’s exactly what they did. While most politicians in favor of the ruling chose simple congratulations, nonprofits and LGBT advocacy groups chose to emphasize that the fight wasn’t yet over — and not just to continue their revenue stream. Instead, it was to reiterate the fact that “[people] are still being fired from their jobs because of who they are…[and] are still fighting to receive medical care for the same reason. And LGBT people everywhere are still at risk of being the victims of violent hate crimes by those with hate in their hearts,” as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Richard Cohen stated.
“Today’s ruling makes perfectly clear that there is no legal or moral justification for standing in the path of marriage equality,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “But what’s clear today is that our work isn’t done until every discriminatory law in this nation is wiped away. The time has come in this country for comprehensive federal LGBT non-discrimination protections.”
“This transformative triumph is a momentous victory for freedom, equality, inclusion, and above all, love. For the first time in our nation’s history, ALL loving and committed couples will have the freedom to say, ‘I do.’,” affirmed Freedom To Marry’s President Evan Wolfson. “And while more remains to be done on many fronts, we can celebrate knowing that fairness and love (and much hard work) have won the day.”
PRESS RELEASES AND personal statements fell to the side, however, when the man who has helped advance LGBT rights more than any other person occupying his office took to a podium in the White House Rose Garden. President Obama, not attempting to hide his elation at the SCOTUS decision — one which will become a hallmark of his presidency — spoke for nine impassioned minutes, deeming the ruling “a victory for America.”
“Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens,” he said. “And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.
“This morning, the Supreme Court recognized that the Constitution guarantees marriage equality,” Obama continued. “In doing so, they’ve reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the law. That all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are or who they love.”
The president had one more surprise in store for LGBT Americans. As the sun set over the East Coast and the sky dimmed, the lights of the White House flickered on — not, however, in their trademark white, but in a bold, bright rainbow splash. Dressed in pride, the White House became a defining symbol of a day that sealed its place in America’s history. As thousands gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate with one another, propose to one another, or simply be around their community, America undoubtedly felt like it had changed for the better.
For Richard Molnar, who had traveled from his home in Twinbrook, Maryland, it was the end of a long, thrilling, life-affirming day.
“My husband woke me up because I work nights, and he woke me up at 10 o’clock and said, ‘Richard, it’s Christmas morning, you gotta see the TV set.’ I came to the living room — my heart dropped out,” he said. Glancing over his shoulder at the White House, tears overcame him. “To see this behind me, I’m blown away. This is an amazing moment in time. Just amazing.”
He recalled those he worked alongside during the AIDS crisis, “all our friends that we have lost, all these years,” and he struggled to compare it to the outpouring of love on display, calling it “mind-boggling.” But what about the future?
“It has opened a whole new chapter in this country. A whole new chapter. I think it’s going to change it for the better. The generation that we lost to the AIDS epidemic, the new millennium’s children are filling that void,” he said. “It’s a very big void and they’re filling it slowly. They’re turning their mothers and their fathers and their grandmothers and their grandfathers and making them think differently.
“I reach out to all those queer folk, LGBT, everybody. This is the moment. And it’s changing this country forever.”
Additional reporting by John Riley and Randy Shulman
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