WASHINGTON — For more than two weeks, gay rights advocates stood at the steps of the US Supreme Court waiting to hear decisions from the justices about two cases affecting millions of gay men and lesbians across the nation. With each day that passed without a ruling, they left disappointed.
But on Wednesday, the last day the court convened for this term, crowds erupted in cheers just after 10 a.m. as the court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act.
Couples who had been waiting for the decision hugged and kissed one another, crying.
“I can’t believe it,” Joshua Schneider, an Israeli-American who married his partner last year in New York, said on hearing that the marriage act had been ruled unconstitutional. “I have to call my husband.”
Gay rights advocates predominated in the crowd, but they were not alone. A few proponents of the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, held signs that supported opposite-sex marriage.
The Rev. Robert Schenck, chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance, called the court’s ruling on the marriage act “a bittersweet outcome” in that it took away from the government the capacity to determine the nature of marriage.
“We want to preserve marriage to its true nature,” he said, which he defined as men and women uniting to form families.
Dozens of people made their way to the court building beginning about 7:30 Tuesday night to sit in line in order to be admitted inside Wednesday. By 7 a.m., the line stretched down the front steps and wrapped around the corner. People stood up to start walking into the building about 7:15 a.m., and court officials started handing out tickets to enter.
Revelers celebrated the rulings at New York City’s best-known gay bar.
Cheers erupted at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on Wednesday when the court ruled that legally married same-sex couples should get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.
Patrons at the Stonewall are credited with sparking the gay rights movement when they fought back against a police raid in 1969.
Maureen Mentrek and Karna Adam, both sophomores at Dartmouth, said they came to the court at 9:30 Tuesday night to get in line.
“It’s a huge landmark case and to actually be able to see it and to see these people in line so passionate about it is really great,” Adam said.”
A crowd at San Francisco City Hall applauded the news the Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California, but the reaction was shaded by the knowledge that the court sidestepped the larger question of whether banning gay marriage is unconstitutional.
The justices voted 5-4 to let stand a trial court’s August 2010 ruling that overturned the state’s voter-approved gay marriage ban, holding that the coalition of religious conservative groups that qualified Proposition 8 for the ballot did not have authority to defend it after state officials refused to do so.
The practical effect of the Supreme Court ruling, however, probably will result in more legal wrangling before the state can begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples for the first time since Proposition 8 passed in 2008.
A federal appeals court said Wednesday it probably will wait at least 25 days before making a decision on whether gay marriages can resume in California.