Kris Perry and Sandra Stier, the lesbian couple at the heart of the Supreme Court Proposition 8 case, raised their joined hands high as they exited the court Wednesday morning, as hundreds who’d gathered outside erupted into cheers.
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” the crowd loudly chanted.
Many in the throng awaiting the high court’s rulings on two same-sex marriage cases had been constantly checking Twitter on their smartphones for news. Between the flurry of interest and the sweat-inducing 90-degree heat, a lot of phones were buckling under the demand and shutting down.
The cheers began when Vin Testa, a gay 23-year-old high school teacher from Washington, sprinted outside the columned building with word that the court had struck down a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
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Testa raised a clenched fist in triumph.
“It was exhilarating. I didn’t know at first, and then (a blogger) came running out, and the next thing I know he’s saying, ‘Come on! Come on! Let’s go!’ ” Testa said. “The only reason I knew it was good news was because they had me running.”
The court effectively struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, by concluding that its supporters lacked the authority to argue for its legality.
With gay rights a political fault line in America for decades, it was a moment of high cultural drama.
The front steps of the court’s massive building had taken on a carnival-like atmosphere. Crowds had gathered early, anticipating history in the making. Rainbow, American and navy blue flags with yellow equal signs fluttered in the morning breeze. Signs boasted messages such as “Marry who you love” and “Did we vote on your marriage?”
Anti-gay marriage advocates either kept silent or weren’t out in force.
With news of the rulings, same-sex couples embraced. Some wept. To many, the decision was personal.
Andres Gaviota and Guillermo Rodriguez said they felt relief after hearing the outcome of the Defense of Marriage Act case. The young gay couple had been considering marriage after six months of dating. Though same-sex marriage is legal in the nation’s capital, where they live, they had a particular concern for federal benefits since Rodriguez isn’t an American citizen.
“If I was straight and I established a relationship with a woman here, it would be easy for me,” Rodriguez said. “But me as a gay male that is an immigrant to this country, it’s harder, because our relationship has not been completely recognized. With DOMA struck down, that gives us hope that our relationship can be recognized as completely and entirely as it should be.”
“It’s stressful, because we see friends and couples with work visas that have businesses and jobs for seven to 12 years, and then they just have to go,” Gaviota added.
Jen Wilson, 37, and Ashley Massley, 27, drove up to Washington from North Carolina for the ruling. Though not ready for marriage yet, they said it was nice to feel as if there might be an option for them someday in their home state, where same-sex couples are afforded no rights.
“Even before you get into marriage, you have the fact that this is a step in accepting us as actual human beings,” Massley said. “I mean, the fact that she and I are lesbians is automatic grounds for being fired in our state.”
“I don’t feel like I should have to leave my home to have the same rights as my neighbors,” Wilson said. “It’s where I was born; it’s where I grew up.”
Another same-sex couple, Charlotte Hayes, 45, and Punna Khanna, 38, flew to California to get married the day before the state adopted Proposition 8 in 2008. Though Virginia, the state where they live, doesn’t recognize their marriage as legal, they said the day was an important one to them.
“People say it doesn’t matter, because we’re still together,” Hayes said. “But it does matter. It felt differently immediately. We were married, we no longer were ‘dating.’ And that does matter.”