The scene outside the US Supreme Court on June 26, 2013. Photo by Zoë Carpenter.
By 10 this morning the crowd around the Supreme Court flooded across the street towards the Capitol. There were men in seersucker suits and rainbow bowties, teenagers draped in Mardi Gras beads, a woman in a wheelchair, mothers with babies hitched to their chests. Many held umbrellas to ward off the sun.
A softly sung “We Shall Not Be Moved” and chants of “What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!” faded to quiet as people scanned Twitter for news of the two rulings on same-sex marriage. The crowd cheered on the reporters who dashed across the white stone of the plaza, decisions in their hands.
“I got ninety-nine problems, but DOMA ain’t one!” someone shouted as news spread that Justice Kennedy, reading from the bench, had declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstutional. Still, most of the crowd waited to celebrate until after Chief Justice John Roberts announced that the court had ruled that individuals have no standing to defend California’s Proposition 8, clearing the way for same-sex marriage in the state.
The loudest noise greeted the plaintiffs in the initial case against Proposition 8 as they emerged from the courtroom, holding hands and wiping away tears. The crowd rushed up the steps towards the couples before the guards shooed them back again. People held out copies of the Court’s decision for the lawyers to sign and shyly thanked the plaintiffs as they walked towards the waiting cameras.
“I don’t even know what to say. I’m almost speechless,” said Karen Cerio, a DC resident. “It’s surreal,” agreed Ann Strengman, her partner of twelve years.
“I’m over the moon. I think it really represents history moving in the right direction,” said Hava Dennenberg, who was inside the court as the justices read the decisions. “It took a while to understand the weight of what was actually being said.”
“I’m proud of my country,” said David Baker, a Utah native who waited at the court each decision day for a verdict. Baker said he was moved by the presence of so many people of faith. “I am an active and current member of the Mormon Church, and I am openly gay,“ he said. “We are Americans. We are Republicans and Democrats. We are African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Whites, Pacific Islanders. We are humans. We are Christians, we are Baptists, we are Mormon, we are Muslim, we are Jewish. We are Americans.”
David Ensign, a minister who works with People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, said that today’s decision speaks to a cultural change that has been both profound and a long time coming. “It has been a long, slow wave that suddenly gained a huge amount of momentum in the last five or six years,” he said. “It’s not the end. Clearly marriage equality is not the law of the land in Virginia. But it’s clear that the future belongs to those who stand for equality.”
A woman named Candace said she was particularly heartened that the fall of DOMA will give same sex partners access to federal benefits and other rights formerly afforded only to heterosexual couples. “These are things that affect people every day, and you usually don’t find out about them until they affect you,” she said.
It remains to be seen how various federal agencies will determine which marriages are legal, and the court’s limited action in Proposition 8 leaves couples in thirty-five states without the right to marry or form civil unions. Still, the rulings will allow many people who have put their lives on hold to move forward.
“We have our wedding bands and everything,” said Ian Holloway, an LA resident who sent a text to his partner with the news. “The ideal would have been if they legalized marriage everywhere, but I didn’t think that that was going to happen. This is the expected outcome, but a good one.”
After their marriage and some traveling, Holloway and his partner plan to start the adoption or surrogacy process. They have been saving for a down payment on a house. “We’re just going to live our lives,” Holloway said. “Normal married life, as boring as that is.”
While crowds cheered the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA, the court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act was not met with similar joy.