Same-sex marriage advocates say fight isn't over

Supreme Court marriage decision thrills local advocates.

Advocates of same-sex marriage celebrated the landmark Supreme Court ruling Friday that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry anywhere in the United States but said work remains to protect gay and lesbian Americans from discrimination.

Opponents, meanwhile, said the 5-4 decision violated the states' right to define marriage for themselves, and expressed concern for the religious freedom of churches, clergy and others who do not share the court's view.

The ruling ends same-sex marriage bans in the 14 states that have them. Maryland has recognized gay marriage since 2013.

Amid the jubilation Friday, advocates of same-sex marriage warned that many states still lack workplace protections to protect gays and lesbians against discrimination when they exercise their constitutional right to marry, and vowed to continue fighting.

"In more than half the states, a same-sex couple can get married on a Saturday and go to work on Monday and be fired for their sexual orientation," said Keith Thirion, director of advocacy and programs at Equality Maryland. "Even as we're celebrating, we're still looking ahead at the work that needs to be done."

The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, was clear: "The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. ... No longer may this liberty be denied."

The dissenters — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito — said the court usurped a power that belongs to states. Scalia called the decision a "judicial putsch" and a "threat to American democracy."

The lead plaintiff in the case was Jim Obergefell, an Ohio man who came to Maryland with his terminally ill partner in July 2013 because of the state's same-sex marriage law. Obergefell and John Arthur married on the tarmac at BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Ohio did not recognize the marriage, and the couple sued the state. Arthur died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in October 2013, and Obergefell pushed to be listed as his surviving spouse on his death certificate.

He was in the courtroom Friday when Kennedy read the decision.

"America has taken one more step toward the promise of equality enshrined in our Constitution, and I'm humbled to be part of that," Obergefell said in a statement.

Opponents condemned the ruling.

Requiring "all states to license and recognize same-sex 'marriage' is a tragic error that harms the common good," said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage."

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said the decision "makes a nod in the direction of religious liberty but not enough of one."

"We may very well see a difficult road ahead for people of faith who believe in the true definition of marriage," he said. "It recognizes free-speech rights of religious people to speak and advocate but does not acknowledge the free exercise of religion, the right to implement church teaching and the right to follow church teaching when interacting with the broader society."

Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus said the high court overstepped its authority.

"The Supreme Court failed to recognize the states' constitutional role in setting marriage policy, instead finding "a federal role where there is none," he said. "In doing so, they have taken power away from the states and from the people to settle the relevant issues for themselves."

A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said, "As approved by a majority of Maryland voters, same-sex marriage has been legal in our state. Governor Hogan has a sworn duty to uphold the law," said Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill, "and that's exactly what he will do."

Gay and lesbian couples in Maryland and beyond reacted with tears and joy.

"I can't believe it. It's surreal," said Ivana Batinic, 38, who lives in Rodgers Forge with her partner, Erin Killough, and their 2-year-old daughter. "It's crazy that I'm a witness to this."

Mary Bearden, a 36-year-old Baltimore attorney, married Ensley Fleming last month in Grassy Creek, N.C. They obtained their marriage license in Baltimore to avoid any snags. "We didn't want to take the chance that we weren't going to be able to do it in North Carolina," Bearden said.

She said the Supreme Court decision provides the couple with new security. They had worried about what might happen if an accident incapacitated one of them while traveling.

"It's nice to know that, God forbid, something should happen in, say, Tennessee, that I wouldn't be precluded from seeing my wife in the emergency room and vice versa," Bearden said. "It also opens up a world of options in terms of jobs and where we could move."

Emily Seale, 37, and her partner, Amelia Wallace, live in Mobile, Ala. They have been together for six years but have chosen not to marry until it was legal in their home state.

Seale said the couple woke up a little groggy Friday morning after a night out at an Indigo Girls concert. They plunked down on the couch, turned on the television and saw the news.

They both started crying.

"It's overwhelming," said Seale, who works in fisheries management for state government. "It's amazing to finally have someone to say that it's OK and that you're just as good."

Feeling like a second-class citizen has been "tough and hard," she said.

Her current job is the first in which her co-workers know she is gay. But Alabama has no workplace protections for same-sex couples, she said, so she is still slightly fearful.

"It can be very scary," she said.

In Austin, Texas, Lori Nelson declared a "landmark day for our country."

The former Baltimore resident, a 34-year-old food services director for a charter school in Austin, is in a long-term relationship with Melissa Holt. The couple has a 2-year-old daughter and a second child due in the fall.

"It's really great to feel validated in a relationship I've had with my partner for 13 years," she said. "Now we can start the process of making our family whole and not have to worry about moving out of Austin to do that."

Maryland state Sen. Jamie Raskin, who teaches constitutional law at American University in Washington, called the court's decision "completely obvious."

"It's only baffling in how four Supreme Court justices could not perceive what every school child in America can understand — that equal protection means that gay people cannot be excluded from marriage," said the Montgomery County Democrat, who pushed for same-sex marriage in Maryland. He said Scalia's dissent "sounds like the polemics of a Fox News commentator."

President Barack Obama hailed the ruling, which he said would end the nation's patchwork of marriage laws and the uncertainty they create for same-sex couples.

For M. Paz Galupo, a psychology professor at Towson University, Friday was doubly special: The decision came on the day she and her wife, Carin Sailor-Galupo, celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary.

"It's obviously a huge milestone and not one I ever thought I'd see," Galupo said.

The couple married in 2004, when the public debate was just heating up.

Galupo said their daughter, then 11, was set to sing at the ceremony but pulled them aside beforehand to express a worry that today seems unfathomable.

"She asked, 'Is there a chance we're going to get arrested?'" Galupo said.

Galupo said the story shows how dramatically the debate has shifted.

"Our willingness as a country to debate and to be willing to change is awesome," she said.

ddonovan@baltsun.com

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