(WBEN/AP) You would think that in New York State, the nation's most populous state to already legalize gay marriage, that reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage might be a little more muted, where the ruling perhaps has less of an impact. Afterall, the court's rulings have no direct effect on the constitutional amendments in 29 states that limit marriage to heterosexual couples nor any direct bearing on states where same sex marriage is the law of the land.
But Kitty Lambert -Rudd, the state's first woman to be married when New York legalized gay marriage almost two years ago ( at her July 2011 s ceremony, right) says there is "dancin' and singing and partying all up and down Allen Street," .now that the ruling is in place.
Wednesday's twin rulings from the high court will extend federal recognition to same-sex marriages in the states where they are legal, and will add California - the most populous state - to the 12 others in that category. That will mean about 30 percent of Americans live in states recognizing same-sex marriage.
Even as they celebrate a momentous legal victory, supporters of gay marriage already are anticipating a return trip to the Supreme Court in a few years, sensing that no other option but a broader court ruling will legalize same-sex unions in all 50 states.
While the Supreme Court ruling struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act(DOMA) , and cleared the way for same sex marriages that had been banned in California, it sidestepped the larger question of whether banning gay marriage is unconstitutional.
"The Supreme Court is not doing what they did in Roe V. Wade and that is to create at the federal constitutional level a right to gay marriage,' says Attorney Dennis Vacco, a former NY Attorney general, now in practice with Matthias Silverstein and Wexler in Buffalo..
"They have thrown out a key provision of DOMA, and in so doing are recognizing that the issue of gay marriage is very much alive and active in the states and with the state legislatures," Vacco says
In a handful of politically moderate states such as Oregon, Nevada and Colorado amendments that recognize only heterosexual marriage could be overturned by ballot measures, but that's considered highly unlikely in more conservative states.
Yet the decisions from the high court still gives Lambert-Rudd cause for celebration.
"It absolutely has a change in my legal status. To date I have had a new York State marriage that when I went to Pennsylvania was not recognized by the federal government," she says.
Lambert- Rudd , who campaigned vigorously for the state measure, is fond off saying that up until now it was as if someone gave her a dollar bill, cut it in half and said she could only spend it in the company store. Now instead she says, the Supreme Court has made the currency of her marriage license valid anywhere.
"This has a profound effect. My marriage is now legal across this country. I am now able to file federal taxes with my wife. I'm able to file for Social Security if either one of us dies, to protect our standard of living..." says Lambert-Rudd adding that the survivor spouse benefit has become a huge issue for the gay community, where many have had financial troubles after the death of a spouse.
"Now my marriage is exactly the same as yours," she says
Share Your Thoughts
and At the Bottom of this Page
|Where do you stand on the issue of same sex marriage?|
|Fine with me!|
|( 27% )|
|( 73% )|
Buffalo's Early News In-Studio In-Depth
Hear John Zach and Susan Rose with Tim Moran, Editor & Publisher of Outcome Buffalo (far right), a weekly LGBT Newspaper and Buffalo State College Prof. Peter Yaccobucci (above left) , who studies the Supreme Court.
Four segments with Moran and Yaccobucci
Questions and answers about Wednesday's court rulings:
Q: Can you boil down these two big rulings - 104 pages in all - to the basics?
A: In one case, the court said legally married gay couples are entitled to the same federal benefits available to straight couples. In the other, it cleared the way for gay marriages to resume in California, where voters banned them in 2008.
Q: What type of benefits are we talking about?
A: More than you'd expect. There are more than 1,000 federal laws in which marital status matters, covering everything from income and inheritance taxes to health benefits and pensions. In states where gay marriage is legal, same-sex couples may actually be looking forward to filing their income taxes next April - married, filing jointly.
Q. Why does it matter where a gay couple lives?
A: Even with Wednesday's ruling, where legally married gay couples live still may affect the federal benefits they can obtain, at least for now. Social Security survivor benefits, for example, depend on where a couple is living when a spouse dies. If that happens in a state that bans or does not recognize the union, it's not for sure that the surviving spouse will be entitled to the payments. Immigration law, meanwhile, only looks at where people were married, not where they live. It's complicated.
Q: What does the U.S. marriage map look like right now?
A: It's a patchwork. Same-sex marriage is legal in 12 states and the District of Columbia - representing 18 percent of the U.S. population. When gay marriage resumes in California, the figure will jump to 30 percent. Twenty-nine other states have constitutional amendments that ban gay marriage. Six states have laws that ban it. Two states neither allow gay marriage nor ban it.
Q: How many same-sex couples in the U.S. have been legally married?
A: The numbers are squishy. The Pew Research Center estimates there have been at least 71,000 legal marriages since 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize them, but says there are almost certainly more. The Williams Institute, a UCLA-based think tank, says approximately 114,000 couples are legally married and more than 108,000 are in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships. In California alone, 18,000 same-sex couples were married during the 142-day period when gay unions were legal there in 2008.
Q: What's all this talk about DOMA?
A: DOMA is the federal Defense of Marriage Act, enacted in 1996. The court on Wednesday struck down a section of that law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman for purposes of federal law. That's what had denied legally married gay couples access to a host of federal benefits and programs that are available to straight couples.
Q: Why all of the focus Wednesday on California?
A: The second case that the court addressed related to a 2008 state ballot proposition that added a ban on gay marriage to the California Constitution. The court didn't rule on the merits of that ballot proposal, but it left in place a trial court's declaration that the proposition is unconstitutional. That means same-sex weddings could resume in California in about a month, although a federal appeals court there said it may continue to bar gay marriages even longer if proponents of Proposition 8 ask for a rehearing.
Q: What more could the Supreme Court have done?
A: Tons. It could have given gay Americans the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals. Instead, it sidestepped the looming question of whether banning gay marriage is unconstitutional.
Q: What's President Barack Obama's take on all of this?
A: He welcomed the ruling striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act and directed Attorney General Eric Holder to make sure federal laws are in sync with the ruling. (Obama, who endorsed gay marriage last year, broke with his Republican and Democratic predecessors and declined to defend the law in court.) Already, the Defense Department says it is beginning the process to extend health care, housing and other federal benefits to the same-sex spouses of members of the military.
Q: How does the public feel about gay marriage?
A: Public support has grown dramatically in the last few years, with a majority now favoring legal marriage for gay couples. There's even broader support for extending to gay couples the same legal rights and benefits that are available to married straight couples. An Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll last fall found 63 percent favored granting gay couples the same legal benefits straight couples had. And 53 percent favored legal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Q: What happens next?
A: Supporters of gay marriage will keep pressing to legalize same-sex unions in all 50 states. That means more battles in individual states, and more visits to the Supreme Court.
"Certainly, yesterday's decision was a step in the wrong direction, but let's be clear though, as to what the decision did not do. What same sex advocates were hoping for was a broad ruling from the Supreme Court.. setting forth a constitutional right to same sex marriage"
- -Stephen Hayford, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom, a group that has challenged NY's Same Sex Marriage Law in court
Hear more with Hayford
On The WBEN Liveline
Just Because the Supreme Court ruled, the issue is not going away
(AP) The Human Rights Campaign's president, Chad Griffin, told supporters outside the Supreme Court building that the goal would be to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide within five years.
To sway the justices in such a time frame, activists plan a multipronged strategy. In addition to possible ballot measures in a few states, they hope lawmakers will legalize same-sex marriage in states which now offer civil unions to gay couples, notably New Jersey, Illinois and Hawaii.
There also will be advocacy efforts in more conservative states, ranging from expansion of anti-discrimination laws to possible litigation on behalf of sex-couples there who are denied state recognition even though they married legally in some other jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court's decisions "underscore the emergence of two Americas," Griffin said. "In one, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) citizens are nearing full equality. In the other, our community lacks even the most basic protections."
Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, suggested that efforts to end that division would not be easy, given that many states have electorates that seem solidly opposed to gay marriage.
"The fight is far from over," Rauch wrote in a commentary. "By refusing to override those majorities, the court green-lighted the continuation, probably for a decade or more, of state-by-state battles over marriage."
In Florida, where voters approved a ban on gay marriage with 62 percent support in 2008, the gay-rights group Equality Florida called on its supporters to "get engaged and fight" for recognition of same-sex marriage.
The high court rulings "are a major step forward for the country, but for Floridians they fall far short of justice," said the group's executive director, Nadine Smith. "The Supreme Court has said we can go states like Minnesota or Iowa and get married, but we return to Florida legal strangers in our home state."Increasingly, political swing states like Florida, as well as more solidly Republican states, could become gay-marriage battlegrounds.
One example of the forthcoming strategy: The American Civil Liberties Union announced Wednesday that it has hired Steve Schmidt, former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee and adviser to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to build support among GOP state politicians for striking down gay-marriage bans.
"For a full civil liberties victory, we need broad-based support from coast to coast," the ACLU's executive director, Anthony Romero, said.
On the conservative side, there was deep dismay over the Supreme Court rulings, but little indication of any new strategies or initiatives.
"The debate over marriage has only just begun," said Austin Nimocks, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which staunchly opposes same-sex marriage, called upon Americans "to stand steadfastly together in promoting and defending the unique meaning of marriage: one man, one woman, for life."
Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, predicted that the ruling on federal recognition would prompt thousands of gay couples to get married, now that there were additional financial incentives to so.
This group could include couples in states which don't recognize same-sex marriage but who are willing to travel to a state that does recognize such unions.Peter Sprigg of the conservative Family Research Council said the court ruling on federal recognition "raises as many questions as it answers."
"Will recognition be based on the law in the state where the marriage was celebrated or the state in which the couple resides?" he said. "The doors may now be wide open for whole new rounds of litigation."
The National Conference of State Legislatures said the situation was clear for married gay couples in the 13 states recognizing same-sex marriage: They will be eligible for all federal marriage benefits.
"Outside of these states, federal marriage benefits become more complicated, as many commonly thought-of federal benefits, such as jointly filing on federal income taxes, are tied to a married couple's place of residence," the conference said.
Gay-rights activists immediately began lobbying the Obama administration and other federal officials to extend as many benefits as possible on the basis of where a gay couple's wedding took place, not on the state where they live.
"The Obama administration can make clear, through regulation, that the federal government will recognize those marriages and not participate in state-sponsored discrimination," said Suzanne Goldberg, a professor at Columbia Law School.
Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, one of the groups most active in building support for same-sex marriage, urged the administration to adopt a "clear and consistent" standard that would apply equally to all married gay couples, regardless of their state of residence.
"Marriage should not flutter in and out like cellphone service," he said. "When it comes to federal programs, even if states are discriminating, the federal government should not."
Wolfson, like many of his allies, was already looking ahead to another rendezvous with the Supreme Court, confident that public support for same-sex marriage would continue to increase.
"We have the winning strategy," he said. "We win more states, we win more hearts and minds, and we go back to the Supreme Court in a matter of years, not decades, to win the freedom to marry nationwide."