Supreme Court same-sex marriage rulings prompt tears of joy, hugs in Ann Arbor
Editor's note: This article has been updated with comments from U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin. Glued to a set of computer screens before her, former Ann Arbor City Council Member Sandi Smith watched intently as the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decisions on two historic same-sex marriage cases Wednesday.
The mood was tense in the moments before the news broke, and then switched to jubilant: The high court struck down a provision of the the federal Defense of Marriage Act denying benefits to married gay couples, and upheld a lower court's decision that California's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.
"My goodness, what did people do before the internet?" Smith said.
Smith and two friends had gathered in Smith's offices at Trillium Real Estate in Ann Arbor's Braun Court to wait for the news.
Smith founded Trillium with her partner, Linda Lombardini, in 2001 and is the president of the board of directors of the Jim Toy Community Center, a resource for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and allied residents in Washtenaw County.
With Smith Wednesday were Amy McLaughlin and Callie McKee, partners for six years in Ann Arbor.
After hearing that a part of DOMA had been declared unconstitutional — to which the friends responded with hugs and loud whoops of happiness — McKee looked to McLaughlin and said "Will you file your taxes with me?"
At the Spectrum Center at the University of Michigan, staff members were glued to the TV set this morning.
“There were lots of tears of joy, and hugging. It’s a huge, huge day,” Jackie Simpson, director of the Spectrum Center. “This is a pretty emotional day. This has been in the works for a long time.”
The Spectrum Center educates students on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression issues through outreach programs, advocacy and support.
Though the Supreme Court's Wednesday decisions were a huge step forward for gay couples living in states that allow same-sex unions and for those living in California, the court has left the issue of the legality of gay marriage up to individual states to decide.
Richard Primus, a law professor at the University of Michigan Law School, said Wednesday that marriage law in general is a state by state issue.
“This is a big step to normalizing same-sex marriage,” Primus said in an interview with AnnArbor.com. “This is an excellent outcome for proponents of same-sex marriage in the long term.”
In the 12 states and the District of Columbia that allow same-sex marriage, the high court’s decision to strike down a major provision in DOMA means the following for same-sex couples, Primus said:
- If you have been married under the law of a state that recognizes same sex marriage, you can now file your federal income taxes jointly as married
- If your spouse dies, you can inherit as a spouse under the federal estate tax laws
- You are entitled to survivor benefits under Social Security laws, as well as veterans’ benefits laws
- You are entitled to spousal status under immigration laws
- You are entitled to any provision under a federal law that cares whether you are married
Michigan's ban on gay marriage is the subject of a lawsuit in Detroit federal court. Judge Bernard Friedman said in March he would wait to issue a decision on the case until the Supreme Court decision, the Associated Press reported.
Because the Supreme Court did not make an overriding statement Wednesday regarding the legality of gay marriage, Michigan's ban is not impacted.
"It’s kind of a one step forward, one step back sort of thing," Smith said. "“The LGBT leaders in Michigan have already been meeting. We are creating a coalition and it would be our goal to secure equal rights in Michigan. Because, this ruling is great, but we’re not quite there yet in this state.”
“So my state can still discriminate against me even if the federal government can’t?” she said. "There is this thing that you get to plan, that all heterosexual couples can start planning pretty much the minute they meet the love of their life. Now we’re one step closer to being able to make those plans.” However, the high court's Wednesday rulings will likely have a measurable influence on public opinion, Primus said.
“The effects on Michigan law are matters of persuasion in society, not matters of legal force,” Primus said. “Often, even the Supreme Court does its most important work by changing people’s opinions.”
Prior to Wednesday, Simpson said she was hopeful that the court would strike down DOMA and anticipated that the court would leave the issue of same-sex marriage up to each state to decide for itself.
“Nationally we’re sort of making progress and moving beyond this notion of whether LGBT people should have the same rights of all other people in all aspects,” Simpson said. “That’s what today has done.”
The ruling regarding the state of California’s law will now pave the way for other states considering implementing same-sex marriage, Simpson said.
“I’m very appreciative of the ruling for California, because they will be able to move forward with recognizing same sex marriage,” Simpson said.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, who represents western Washtenaw County, was critical of the decision, however.
"Today’s decisions mean states will continue addressing this issue, but I am troubled by the Court’s willingness to allow a district federal court to overrule the people of California who voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman," Walberg said in a statement. "I remain of the principled belief that marriage should continue to stand for the union of a man and woman. The activist Supreme Court has decided that the desires of adults are more important than the needs of children and the orderly continuance of society."
He also said he was disappointed with the court's other ruling.
"It’s also disappointing the Court overruled the Defense of Marriage Act, which passed the legislative branch with bipartisan majorities and was signed into law by President Clinton."
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan welcomed the decisions.
"Today’s Supreme Court rulings are victories for equality and for simple human dignity," he said in a statement. "I favored repeal of DOMA because it falls short of its ideal of equality under the law. The Supreme Court’s recognition of that truth is in keeping with our best traditions and will give millions of Americans the legal protections to which they are fully entitled under our Constitution. I’m hopeful that our nation’s centuries-long march toward equality will continue to move forward.” Simpson called Wednesday’s rulings “A victory with more work to do.”
“I think the ball has started to roll,” said Gail Wolkoff. She works with Ann Arbor area youth to promote acceptance and social responsibility, and is on the executive board for the Jim Toy Community Center.
“It’s giving the message of acceptance, especially to youth that come from same-sex parents,” she said. “This gives hope to people just starting relationships — they can fall in love and love one another and be valid,”
Wolkoff said she believes the Supreme Court’s rulings in favor of same-sex marriage and rights for gay couples open the door for acceptance in society of same-sex couples.
“This can make a huge difference in people’s lives. Probably more than anything — the idea that love is valid (in same-sex couples).”
- Previous coverage: U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Defense of Marriage Act in landmark rights case
- Previous coverage: Supreme Court issues historic rulings on same-sex marriage
Reporter Ben Freed contributed to this story.