As news of DOMA's invalidation by the Supreme Court spread today, LGBT people in the Philadelphia region and elsewhere celebrated, while those who oppose same-sex marriage expressed dismay.
The court invalidated a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that has prevented married gay couples from receiving a range of tax, health and retirement benefits that are generally available to married people. The vote was 5-4. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.
In the Philadelphia region, LGBT couples were celebrating.
Harvey Hurdle and his partner, Kevin Yoder, have been together for 25 years.
"It's a goosebumps moment," he said. "It's kind of surreal to be watching a website to find out whether you and your partner ― or, excuse me, husband ― are going to be recognized. It's a surreal feeling, but it's the culmination of years of work by so many brave people to get there. It's a great day."
Conservative pastors group upset
The conservative Pennsylvania Pastor's Network immediately came out against the decision.
"We are stunned at this decision today to take a 360-degree turn away from the biblical definition of marriage," said Sam Rohrer, president of the Pennsylvania Pastors' Network and former Pennsylvania state representative for 18 years. "While this decision is a setback to all we have fought for to protect marriage, we must continue to work to keep marriages and families intact, the way God intended them, and pray for a continued revival of the values upon which this country was founded."
Brandon McGinley, Western Pennsylvania Field Director Pa. Family Institute, downplayed the ruling.
"This is merely saying that the federal government must recognize what states consider to be marriages," he said. "It's not an extraordinary departure from what was expected, and it doesn't change the state's abilities to define marriage."
Philadelphia's archbishop, Charles Chaput, said in a statement that the Catholic church would continue to fight for marriage as a union of a man and a woman.
"The legal battle about marriage will continue," he said in the statement. "And the church's commitment to promote the authentic meaning of marriage and family will be vigorously pursued."
Relief for one couple
Sharon Gershoni, an Israeli citizen, and Sarra Lev were eagerly awaiting the ruling and had planned to go to Canada if DOMA was upheld.
Gershoni has lived in the United States since 2006 by stringing together a series of work visas, mostly by teaching courses. DOMA prevented Americans such as Sarra Lev from petitioning for a legal permanent status — or a green card — for same-sex partners.
"I think that we can start seeing hope to build our lives again," Gershoni said today.
"We kind of can't believe it," Lev said. "We've had all these phone calls from people crying [...] We're just ecstatic."
Ed Hermance, owner and founder of the LGBT bookstore Giovanni's Room, said he was surprised at the pace of change.
"It's stunning how far we have come ... and now it seems like it's a groundswell that's really overwhelming," he said. "There are a lot of people in the gay community who are not necessarily supportive of marriage in general, but I think everyone is just astounded that there is as much acceptance of LGBT people as there is. "
Same-sex marriage upheld in California; no opinion on state bans
In a separate ruling, the Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California by holding that defenders of California's gay marriage ban did not have the right to appeal lower court rulings striking down the ban.
The court's 5-4 vote Wednesday leaves in place the initial trial court declaration that the ban is unconstitutional. California officials probably will rely on that ruling to allow the resumption of same-sex unions in about a month's time.
The high court itself said nothing about the validity of gay marriage bans in California and roughly three dozen other states.
The outcome was not along ideological lines. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Antonin Scalia.
"We have no authority to decide this case on the merits, and neither did the 9th Circuit," Roberts said, referring to the federal appeals court that also struck down Proposition 8.
Same-sex marriage has been adopted by 12 states and the District of Columbia. Another 18,000 couples were married in California during a brief period when same-sex unions were legal there.
DOMA decision along ideological lines
"Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways," Kennedy said in the DOMA decision.
"DOMA's principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal," he said.
He was joined by the court's four liberal justices.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented. Scalia read his dissent aloud. Scalia said the court should not have decided the case. But, given that it did, he said, "we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation."
The law was passed in 1996 by broad majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton. Since then, many lawmakers who voted for the law and Clinton have renounced their support.
Specifics of the laws
Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman, making same-sex couples ineligible for more than 1,000 federal benefits including filing joint taxes, relief from the federal estate tax upon a partner's death and the ability to sponsor a spouse for an immigration visa.
An 83-year-old New York City woman brought the suit against DOMA, known as United States v. Windsor, over inheritance taxes assessed upon the death of her wife. In 2007, she married her longtime partner, Thea Spyer, in Canada, where same-sex marriage is legal.
The Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, who said in March that he believes the law should be overturned. In an unusual move, the Obama administration Justice Department refused to defend the law before the court.
The court is also set to rule in Hollingsworth v. Perry, a challenge to California's Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage which was passed by voters in 2008.
In May, the State of Delaware became the 11th of 12 states to recognize same-sex marriage. The law takes effect on July 1. New Jersey has civil unions, but Pennsylvania has no provisions for gay couples.
In advance of the rulings, state Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay person to win election to the Pennsylvania legislature, issued a statement.
"Regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the two marriage cases," he stated, "there will be much work left to do in Pennsylvania for our laws to catch up to the broad and growing support for equality in civil marriage and non-discrimination in the workplace."
Amy DiPierro and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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