OCEANSIDE — In what’s being called an historic day, the Supreme Court on Wednesday issued two rulings that will have an effect on gay couples in 13 states, including California.
In their final ruling of the 2012-13 session members of the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a provision in the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) that kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving the same federal benefits that legally married heterosexual couples receive.
The ruling passed in a 5-4 decision.
The court also issued a ruling on California’s Prop 8.
Same-sex marriage supporters celebrated en masse at the North County LGBTQ Resource Center in Oceanside on Wednesday night.
Max Disposti, executive director of the North County LGBTQ Resource Center, said that the rulings were a monumental decision, for many reasons.
“For those in particular, it’s a recognition for all the married couples and their families and for equal justice under the law,” he said.
The provision of the DOMA that was struck out, Section 3, defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” as a reference only to a person of the opposite sex, who is a husband or wife.
The Supreme Court’s opinion on Prop 8, issued by Chief Justice John Roberts, managed to sidestep making a full ruling that would affect the entire country, citing that “federal courts have authority under the Constitution to answer such questions only if necessary to do so in the course of deciding an actual ‘case’ or ‘controversy.’”
Without an actual case or controversy over the proposition, the Supreme Court opined that they had no authority to make a decision over the matter.
Prop 8, a voter- approved initiative that banned gay marriage in California in 2008, was determined to be unconstitutional by the lower courts. The Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts, and the ruling will allow same-sex couples in the state to legally marry.
Even though the ruling on Prop 8 affects only California, Disposti still saw it as a victory.
“For Prop 8, even though we were expecting and hoping for a solution that could have brought equality under the law (of all) 50 states, it was a victory because Prop 8 has a major significance for us…Our right to marry was taken away with Prop 8,” he said.
During the celebrations, North County LGBTQ Resource Center volunteer Kindra Fesmire proposed to her longtime girlfriend Michelle Coccari. Coccari, also a volunteer, said yes, adding that, in her eyes, they’ve already been married for the past two years.
Fesmire said she had been planning her proposal for the past two months, and was hopeful that Wednesday’s court rulings turned out as they did.
Another couple, Ally Ramirez and Judith Johnson also began planning their engagement after they heard the news.
Ramirez said she was shocked when she heard the ruling. It took a couple of hours for it to sink in, she said. “I broke down crying and I called (Judith) at work, sobbing, and she was like, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I was like it finally hit me, we’re getting married.”
The couple, who has known each other for nine years, and has been engaged since 2009 have set a wedding date for next month.
But the San Diego County Clerk’s Office issued a statement following the ruling on Prop 8, saying that they would not accept appointments for the issuance of marriage licenses or perform civil service marriage ceremonies for same sex couples at this time.
“My office is ready to respond immediately as rulings become effective,” Ernest J. Dronenburg Jr., county clerk and commissioner of civil marriages, said in the statement. “It is my commitment to customers that we conduct business in a fair, courteous and professional manner that complies with court rulings and statutory requirements.”
The office will begin taking appointments once the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismisses the appeal, the stay is lifted and direction is received from the State Office of Vital Records, according to the county’s statement.
Even with the rulings, Disposti said there is still a lot of work to do, especially in the more than 30 states where same sex marriage is illegal and where, “the basic principles of equality are denied every day.”
Consuelo Martinez, from the North County American Civil Liberties Union, said their national organization has a goal of bringing legal same-sex marriages to 20 states by 2016. The campaign, she said, was expected to launch Thursday.
Still, Disposti said Wednesday was a day to celebrate. “We are excited about the ruling…this is the first time the U.S. Supreme Court has pronounced itself in favor — in recognition of LGBTQ couples. So we took away a cancer within our own Constitution that was expressed through DOMA,” he said.
“I think it’s time that our local governments, from city hall to city officials, politicians, are stepping up to the plate, and send positive messages of inclusiveness in our community. We want our local politicians, no matter where they’re coming from — Democrats, Republicans, Independents — to come forward to protect our families, because North San Diego County has been very silent when it comes to that.”