Supporters of same-sex marriage had reasons to cheer Wednesday morning, as the United States Supreme Court released two decisions that many agree add to the movement’s momentum.
Some local and state faith-based leaders, however, disapproved of the decisions.
Lakewood Baptist Church’s Tom Smiley said that the high court was not ruling in favor of “traditional” marriage.
“Same-sex marriage is not marriage,” he said. “Calling something marriage doesn’t make it marriage. Marriage has always been a covenant between a man and a woman. ... My world view is a biblical worldview.”
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta also released a statement against the rulings.
“Today’s decision is part of a public debate of great consequence,” he wrote. “The future of marriage and the well-being of our society hang in the balance.”
The Supreme Court first struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, now allowing for same-sex married couples to have access to federal benefits. The second decision was a technical legal ruling that left in place a trial court’s ruling that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
Prop 8, banning gay marriage, was approved by California voters in 2008. A federal appeals court then ruled the vote was unconstitutional.
Both were determined in 5-4 rulings.
With the striking down of part of DOMA, the
Supreme Court put an end to the provision of federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples, but was silent on the part that allowed for states to choose whether or not to recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other states.
While both rulings are of significance in the legalization of same-sex marriage, University of Georgia law professor Hillel Levin cautions that there won’t be an immediate change, particularly for Georgia residents.
“It could have some potential implications down the road,” he said, explaining that there will be future court cases that could decide those changes. “All of that is just unknown at this point, how the courts would vote in such cases, because these two particular cases decided this morning don’t really affect Georgia residents.”
It was not immediately known if it would impact the benefits of same-sex couples in Georgia who married in a state where the marriage is recognized.
“This is an incremental step that is important, but not decisive in the large move toward recognition of same-sex marriage nationwide,” Levin said.
“I think there’s a good likelihood that full federal benefits (will go) to Georgia couples who got married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, but it’s not going to be immediate,” he added.
Same-sex marriage has been adopted by 12 states and the District of Columbia.
University of North Georgia political science and history professor Douglas Young sees the rulings as a “major victory” for same-sex couples.
“I think that these rulings today could serve as the precedent from which the court could outright legalize homosexual marriage the next time a homosexual marriage case comes before the high court,” he said.
The DOMA case, or United States v. Edith Schlain Windsor, involved Windsor and Thea Spyer, a lesbian couple who married in Canada in 2007. The couple returned to their home in New York, where Spyer died in 2009. She left her estate to Windsor. As the Supreme Court’s ruling reads, “Windsor sought to claim the estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. She was barred from doing so, however, by a federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, which excludes a same-sex partner from the definition of ‘spouse’ as that term is used in federal statutes.”
Windsor paid the taxes, but challenged the constitutionality behind the law, leading to this eventual decision.
Reactions across Hall County and the state remained mixed.
On the downtown Gainesville square, Yvonne Gore echoed the sentiments of faith-based leaders.
“I’m not really happy about it. I feel like the states should have the right to make their own decisions,” she said, referring to the Prop 8 decision and the earlier California vote on the subject.
Farrah Sumlin had not heard of the rulings, but after learning of the decisions, she broke into a smile.
“I am in support of man and man, and woman and woman getting married and having children,” she said, noting that her brother is gay. “I totally think it’s a great thing. I think everyone should have free choice. I see it as an awesome step.”
National reaction is as divided as local reaction, with President Barack Obama praising the court’s decision.
“It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people,” Obama said in a statement about the striking down of DOMA. “The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it.”
On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, representing Georgia’s 9th District, posted a short statement on his Facebook page, expressing disappointment in the rulings.
“Marriage policy should have the same access to the electoral process as other major issues we face as a country,” he wrote. “I will continue to fight for limited government and our American family values as Northeast Georgia’s voice in Washington.”
Following the Prop 8 ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it will be at least 25 days before same-sex marriages begin taking place again in California.
Young said that he could see how the decisions, particularly involving Prop 8, are less of a vote for democracy, and more of a vote for the power of the court system.
“The fact that now the United States Supreme Court is in effect nullifying this referendum result, this decision really increases the clout of the courts and the executive branch at the expense of the democratic impulse of society,” he said.
Levin said that while Wednesday was symbolic victory for proponents of same-sex marriage, it’s also a concrete step toward the legalization of gay marriage, and that there are many people who will see actual results from the rulings.
“I don’t know what the numbers are, but the thousands upon thousands of same-sex couples married and living in states that recognize those marriages ... also get tangible, real federal government benefits from that,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.