DOVER — Wednesday was a historic day for marriage equality.
In the wake of two historic U.S. Supreme Court decisions, same-sex married couples, by law, will be recognized on the federal level.
By a vote of 5-4, the Defense of Marriage Act was declared unconstitutional, giving same-sex couples more than 1,000 federal benefits they were previously denied.
DOMA, which had been signed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996, defined marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman.
Without making a sweeping decision, the court sent California’s vote-approved gay marriage ban, better known as Proposition 8, back to the state’s courts — which narrows the decision specifically for California.
In 2008, California voters issued a ballot proposition to write a state constitutional amendment that declared only marriage between a man and woman is recognized in the state, thus overruling a proposition by the California Supreme Court stating same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry.
“I think we all hoped these cases would result the way they did, but we all feared they might not, so it is both a joyous day and quite a relief,” said Lisa Goodman, president of the LGBTQ-rights organization Equality Delaware.
With Gov. Jack A. Markell’s signature on May 7, Delaware officially became the 11th state, along with Washington D.C., to legalize same-sex marriage, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Washington, Maryland and Rhode Island. Since June, Minnesota has become the 12th state.
Ms. Goodman said her organization has been lobbying for marriage equality, backed by both the governor and state attorney general, throughout the 147th General Assembly’s session in anticipation of this day.
“We did not want couples to wait another month or three months,” she said.
Delaware Family Policy Council, a stalwart opponent of marriage equality, released a statement that respected the court’s decision in spite of their personal viewpoints.
“We are encouraged that the Court learned from the disaster of Roe v. Wade and refrained from redefining marriage for the entire country. The Supreme Court did not shut down the national debate on marriage with their ruling. Today 38 states and 94 percent of countries worldwide affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman, just as diverse cultures and faiths have throughout history. The Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t change the fact that society needs children, and children still need a mother and a father,” the statement read.
On July 1, all civil unions will convert to marriages within one year. Same-sex civil unions will no longer be performed after that day. Ms. Goodman expects a rousing turn out in all three county clerk of the peace offices in Delaware.
“I think today people are beyond excited that when they get married in Delaware starting on July 1, they will be recognized as being married by their federal government,” Ms. Goodman said. “That has added a level of joy to the occasion.”
Delaware’s three members of Congress, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., Rep. John Carney, D-Del. and Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., strongly support the Supreme Court’s decisions.
“Earlier this month, I celebrated 20 years of marriage with my wife, Tracey,” Rep. Carney said in a statement, “Today’s decision regarding Proposition 8 will make it possible for more Americans to take part in this institution that celebrates commitment, love, and mutual respect.”
However, Sen. Carper acknowledged that the journey is far from over.
“With over 1,000 federal benefits impacted by marriage and the rest of DOMA still on the books, Congress and the Obama Administration will need to act to provide legal certainty to married same-sex couples in Delaware and across the country,” Sen. Carper stated. “That’s why Congress must repeal DOMA in its entirety – and why I’ll be cosponsoring the Respect for Marriage Act when U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Ca., reintroduces it to do just that.”
Though this has been a landmark decision, Ms. Goodman said the issue of interpreting the law in states that have not legalized gay marriage will be a challenge. The questions remains on whether the federal government will recognize a same-sex marriage, even if a state will not.
Staff writer Jen Rini can be reached at 741-8250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow DSNJen Rini on Twitter.