Supporters of same-sex marriage burst into cheers, wept openly and chanted "DOMA is Dead" outside the Supreme Court as word reached them that the justices had struck down the federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Some in the crowd hugged and others jumped up and down just after 10 a.m. EDT Wednesday when the decision was announced inside. Many were on their cell phones monitoring Twitter, news sites and blogs for the outcome. There were cheers as runners came down the steps with the ruling in hand and turned them over to reporters who quickly flipped through the pages.
Sarah Prager, 26, cried and shook, and hugged a stranger. Prager, who married her wife in Massachusetts in 2011, said she was in shock. "Oh that's so good. It's just really good," she said.
"I didn't expect DOMA to be struck down," Prager said through tears. She referred to the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Gay rights activists had argued that the law improperly denied same-sex spouses the federal benefits that heterosexual couples are granted, and the justices agreed.
Inside, the reaction was subdued.
Many of the spectators had stood in line for hours to get a seat in the packed courtroom, some even camping out overnight. Before the justices took the bench, the crowd was admonished to stay silent, and they kept quiet. As Justice Anthony Kennedy read through a summary of the decision, it became clear that the court was throwing out the federal law, and a few smiles broke out across the audience. One relieved-looking lawyer blinked back her tears.
Justice Antonin Scalia followed with his own scalding dissent, ridiculing justices in the majority for what he termed "self-aggrandizement" and demonization of anyone who opposed gay marriage as an "enemy of human decency." The other justices mostly stared ahead as he spoke.
As soon as Scalia finished, Chief Justice John Roberts announced that Scalia would be reading again, announcing the majority opinion in an unrelated case.
"I'm sorry about that -- but this is shorter," Scalia said quickly, to laughter throughout the room, before launching into a case involving a Massachusetts extortion conviction obviously of less intense interest to the crowd.
Lastly, Roberts read the court's second gay marriage decision, a narrow ruling overturning a California proposition that banned same-sex marriage. It allows the marriages to resume there but doesn't affect other states.
The expectant mood inside quickly deflated under the legalistic wording of the California decision. But when the plaintiffs in that case walked down the court's marble steps with their lawyer afterward they were met with chants of "Thank you" and "USA."
The crowd outside filled the sidewalk and spilled across the street. The vast majority were champions of gay marriage, though there was at least one person who held a sign in favor of traditional marriage. Much of the crowd waved American flags and rainbow flags and carried signs including "I (heart) my wife" and "Equality is an American value!" One man carried a closet door that towered above his head and said in part: "No more shut doors."
Lawyer David Boies, who joined with Ted Olson in urging the court to overturn Proposition 8, said outside the court that the country is closer to "true equality."
"Our plaintiffs now can go back to California and together with every other citizen of California marry the person they love," Boies told reporters.
Both couples who had challenged the law said it was a good day. Sandy Stier, who held hands with her partner Kris Perry, said she was thankful the justices will let them marry, "but that's not enough," she said, "It's got to go nationwide."
Paul Katami, another plaintiff in the case, stood before reporters outside the court and became choked up as he looked at his partner, Jeff Zarrillo.
"Today I finally get to look at the man that I love and finally say: Will you please marry me?"
The pair kissed.
-DC Mayor Vincent Gray released a statement regarding the decision:
“As Dr. King famously said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’ and today’s decisions help move us significantly further along that arc’s trajectory toward full equality under the law,” said Mayor Gray. “While we still have work to do to ensure that marriage equality is a reality for those in every state in our country, I give thanks that both of these decisions are solid victories for justice.”
-DC Councilmember Tommy Wells released a statement regarding the decision:
“I was very proud to cast my vote for marriage equality in the District. Expanding full rights for all our residents was something I had long supported and stood for. But it was California’s Proposition 8 that taught me the real lesson of what it means to be an ally, how straight allies must not only support, but must show up and stand up for our GLBTQ friends, families, and neighbors. Today’s decision by the Supreme Court only reaffirms that role and responsibility that I, and so many others, have to the GLBTQ community.”
-Congressman Jim Moran, a Northern Virginia Democrat, released this statement regarding the decision:
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today puts the court on the right side of history. DOMA is unjust, un-American, and out of step with the values of our country. Beginning today, same-sex couples in the 12 freedom to marry states will be eligible for the federal protections and responsibilities afforded all other married couples.”
-Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen released a statement regarding the decision on the Voting Rights Act:
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling turns back the clock for voting rights at a time when too many Americans still face discrimination in our country. The Voting Rights Act has been a cornerstone to ensuring that all citizens are able to participate in our democracy. By invalidating one of its core provisions, the Court has upset years of established practices that helped ensure voting is more fair.”
-Congressman John K. Delaney (MD-6) released the following statement regarding the decision:
“Today’s Supreme Court rulings are truly historic. Our nation’s march towards greater equality under the law has been frustratingly slow at times, but it has also been inexorable. Today we took another step in the journey that began in Philadelphia in 1776 and was fought for in places like Seneca Falls and Selma. Getting married was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’m heartened to see that right extended to more Americans.”
-Statement of the Archdiocese of Washington on the Supreme Court Rulings Regarding Marriage
Upon initial review, the Archdiocese of Washington finds very troubling that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and chose not to rule on the question of same-sex marriage in California. The apparent outcome of these decisions is that the federal government may not set parameters for the definition of marriage, but instead must leave that power to the states. The Court, in effect, has pointed out both the power of civil government and its limitations. We believe that although government might choose to use the word marriage to apply to a whole range of unions of people, it cannot change what marriage is in its very essence.
Marriage is not a creation of the state. While a number of states and the District of Columbia have changed the legal definition of marriage, government is ultimately powerless to redefine human nature and what describes the exclusive and lifelong union of one man and one woman with the possibility of generating and nurturing children. Governments have the power to create legal definitions. They do not have the ability or authority to change created human nature.
Despite the unsettling outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the archdiocese is grateful for the ongoing efforts undertaken by those who uphold the authentic meaning of marriage and thankful that the Court’s rulings respect individual states’ right to recognize that true meaning. The archdiocese will continue to educate Catholics and the wider community about the truth of marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
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