By Greg Fields
Michel McDonald went to open his email with a bit of trepidation. But afterwards he was glad he did.
“I was at a loss for words and I found my hands were shaking,” said McDonald, a Bakersfield blogger and author of “Diary of a Gay Nerd.” “I had prepared myself for disappointment since every other decision has always been against us, but I was elated to find out that it was finally in our favor.”
After the Supreme Court’s historic decision to strike down the heart of the Defense of Marriage Act and dismiss California’s Proposition 8 many leaders in the gay community in Bakersfield and Fresno were overwhelmed with joy and elation. This outpour of emotion was also coupled with a determination to expand the right to same-sex marriage to other states and not just the 13 states that allow it.
“The people of California have been waiting for this day, particularly couples in Bakersfield,” said Whitney Weddell, chair of Bakersfield LGBTQ.
Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the other four liberal-leaning justices for the 5-4 decision, which invalidated Section 3 of the law. Section 3 prohibited same-sex couples from receiving federal tax, retirement and immigration benefits. The Court, in a 5-4 decision, also punted on California’s Prop 8 claiming the petitioners lacked standing. That means a lower court ruling that overturned the ban remains in effect. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decision. The ruling essentially makes same-sex marriage legal in California.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said gay marriages in California will resume in less than 30 days. The Supreme Court did not strike DOMA’s Section 2, which doesn’t require states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
Cindy Smith of the Gay & Lesbian Center of Bakersfield was pouring over live feeds at SCOTUSblog at 7 a.m. waiting for the decision. She couldn’t contain herself when it was reported the court had struck down DOMA and dismissed Prop 8.
“I’m extremely excited. Thrilled. It’s what we’ve been waiting for,” said Smith, Chair of the Board for the Center. “There is more than 1,100 federal rights now available to legally married gays and lesbians. Fantastic.”
Weddell said the decision was not everything she’d hoped for. It was a baby step in the right direction. Same sex married couples who live in states that allow same sex marriage gained the most from Wednesday’s decision but same sex couples who live in states that do not recognize same sex marriage gained very little direct benefit from the court striking down DOMA, according to Talking Points Memo. Same sex couples who marry in one state but then choose to move (or more likely are forced to, for work, family, or other reasons) to a state that doesn’t allow same sex marriage find themselves in a bit of legal limbo.
“It would’ve been nice to have 9-0. But I’ll take 5-4,” Weddell said. “This is more in line with our values. It would certainly be nice to have marriage equality throughout America. But even Scalia said in his dissent this sets the tone to challenge same-sex marriage bans in other states.”
Chris Jarvis, President of Gay Central Valley, was pleased with the ruling saying, “this is a major move forward for us.” He was still alarmed by the dissenting justices. Weddell agreed saying “Scalia’s dissent was all over the place.” Talking Points Memo compiled a list of Scalia’s most visceral responses to the majority ruling.
“Scalia’s dissent was tough to read. He’s a pretty prejudiced person in my opinion,” Jarvis said.
At the end of the day it can still be difficult being part of the gay community in such a conservative area. Smith said building relationships with the community helps mitigate misunderstandings. Weddell said her group strives for visibility in the community, which makes advocacy for other pressing issues practical. Jarvis said the fight for marriage equality is sometimes more important than acceptance.
“This doesn’t mean people won’t gay bash us or be prejudiced against us,” Jarvis said. “We’re not doing this for people to like us. I’m not expecting to be loved by the Religious Right or for them to lay down.”