The U.S. Supreme Court handed down two major victories for gay marriage Wednesday, ruling that people in same-sex marriages are entitled to federal benefits and clearing the way to resume such unions in California.
The decisions ignited promises from Georgia supporters to push for greater rights for those in same-sex unions here, even as opponents held firm to the state’s ban on them.
The justices overturned part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that banned federal benefits to married same-sex couples. The 5-4 ruling only extends to states that sanction gay marriage, and it did not alter any state laws governing whether same-sex couples can marry.
Consequently, Georgia’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay and lesbian marriages still stands, and state leaders expressed no desire to change that. Also, Georgia continues to have the right to not recognize same-sex unions made in another state.
In its other decision, the high court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages in California, with a 5-4 majority saying the case was not properly before the court. That left in place a federal judge’s ruling that struck down the Proposition 8 ban.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority decision on DOMA, was joined by the court’s four liberal-leaning justices.
“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” said the decision.
Justice Antonin Scalia read the dissent.
“By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency,” Scalia said, “the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.”
Rebecca Glatzer and her lesbian partner, Tameeka Hunter, could barely sleep the past few days as they awaited the court’s decisions, which came on Hunter’s birthday.
“We cried, we hugged, and we’re still crying,” said Glatzer, 34, of Druid Hills. “This is a momentous, amazing day for the both of us.”
Over at Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, the Rev. Ernest Easley was troubled by the decision, and he said he planned to talk about it during his Sunday sermon. The church will celebrate July 4th on Sunday, with a congregation of about 1,000 people singing “God Bless America.”
“Why should He (bless us)?” Easley said, asserting that these court decisions run afoul of Bible teachings. “We’ve openly defied Him … I have great fear for the future of our country.”
Gov. Nathan Deal said Georgia will not permit gay marriage.
“Our state has been one of those that has recognized traditional marriage — or the definition of marriage — as between a man and a woman,” Deal said.
After the decision, a few hundred people gathered at Piedmont Avenue and 10th Street in Atlanta, the site of several gay-rights gatherings over the years. Some people dressed in rainbow colors. Many embraced as they rejoiced, while others chanted, “Vote for equality.” Cars passing by honked horns, and some people rang cowbells.
Brittanie Robertson, 22, believes the time will come when Georgia permits gay marriage. “Sooner or later this is going to pass, but it will take a long time,” Robertson said.
Some waved signs at passing traffic, saying “Georgia, when can I marry my boyfriend?” and “Let’s bring it home y’all” and “Georgia Equality.”
A man with bleach-blond hair walked around offering “Get Equal” stickers.
Metro Atlantans offered wide-ranging opinions on the rulings.
Opponents of gay marriage worried the decisions added momentum to the movement to permit it across the country.
“I’m not for same-sex marriage. When you allow them the benefits, it’s a threat to me and our country,” said Robert Ford, a retiree who lives in Decatur. “It’s escalation, gives them more strength to go forward. If they think they can do that, then what will they do next, but put pressure on Georgia” to allow same-sex marriage.
Others believe that tide of change is a good thing.
“It’s about time,” said Ches Dix, Marietta, 23. “Save for some federal push, I don’t see” legalization of same-sex marriage “happening in Georgia. But, it maintains a level of hope.”
Advocates for same-sex unions said they are planning to file lawsuits soon to force the state to acknowledge that gay and lesbian couples married in another state can receive federal tax, health and pensions benefits.
More than any legal impact in Georgia, the decisions rang a powerful emotional bell for gay and lesbian couples.
“The fact that the federal government said you cannot willy-nilly discriminate against us, that we are equal citizens, is huge,” said Glatzer, who is president of the Stonewall Bar Association of Georgia, composed of legal professionals who support gay rights.
Those who oppose same-sex marriage worry that advocates will use the decisions to try to stifle debate, painting opponents as people who hate rather those people who follow religious beliefs.
“I believe personally that the Bible does not condone homosexuality,” said Tanya Ditty, director of Concerned Women for America of Georgia. “It does not mean we hate. We love the sinner but do not love the sin.”
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Staff reporters Kristina Torres, Greg Bluestein, Hannah Morgan and Chelsea Cariker contributed to this report.