U.S. Supreme Court rulings Wednesday on two laws, one state and one federal, drew a wide range of reaction from local residents concerned about civil rights and marriage.
In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, as unconstitutional. For the purposes of federal laws and programs, the act, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996, defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The court ruled that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating marriage, and that some states have allowed same-sex marriage. Federal law, then, discriminated against same-sex couples who were legally married in those states.
The decision in the case, United States vs. Windsor, means that, under federal law, those same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same as other married couples.
The court also ruled on Proposition 8, a California law that outlawed same-sex marriage, dismissing an appeal by a private party attempting to uphold the law. That left in place a trial court’s declaration that it is unconstitutional.
The state of California, similar to the federal government with DOMA, did not defend the law in court. As a merits case, the appeal of the case, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, was sent back to the lower court for dismissal. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it did not have standing to decide the case.
Many from Denton’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community were excited by the rulings, which they say advance their civil rights movement.
“This reassures us that we are not only an important part of this community, but also of this country,” said Kat Ralph, founder of Keep Denton Queer. “I think this is one step closer to complete equality. One battle won, but this is not yet over.”
Dianne Edmondson, chairwoman of the Denton County Republican Party, said she was disappointed with the decisions.
“I think the federal government did have a role to play in that,” she said. “They passed the federal DOMA, then the president refused to defend it, which is his responsibility as president to defend federal laws. Had he done so, the Supreme Court might have ruled differently — if there had been a more vigorous defense of DOMA.”
Julie Leary, a junior at the University of North Texas who has been active in advocating for gay rights on campus, said she almost cried when she saw the announcement this morning. A self-proclaimed political junkie, Leary said that as soon as she saw that Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, she realized the Supreme Court had ruled part of DOMA unconstitutional.
“It’s exciting to think that I have more rights today than I did yesterday as an American citizen,” Leary said. “The biggest battle’s been won now — it’s just a matter of watching the dominoes.”
John Turner-McClelland said the Stonewall Democrats will continue to push for equality in Texas. Texas allows same-sex couples to adopt children but does not recognize their relationship in other ways.
Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2005 that limits marriage to one man and one woman. The state also denies the recognition of same-sex couples who are legally married in other states and countries.
“We are confident that public opinion and the law is on our side,” Turner-McClelland said.
The Stonewall Democrats, OUTreach Denton, Keep Denton Queer, and Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians held a rally celebrating the rulings on the Courthouse on the Square lawn Wednesday evening.
More than 100 people attended the rally.
Reaction was mixed in the faith community, too, reflecting a regional difference noted by researchers last year.
The Pew Research Center found wide variations of opinion in four surveys conducted in 2012, and noted that residents of Texas and other south-central states — Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee — express greater opposition to same-sex marriage than other regions.
A majority, or about 56 percent of residents, oppose same-sex marriage while about 35 percent favor it. In New England, 62 percent favor same-sex marriage.
The Rev. Jeff Williams, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, had two observations from the rulings — first, how divisive American politics have become; and second, how laws that support biblical values continue to erode.
He pointed to the court’s 5-4 decisions and state Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster of an abortion bill in Austin on Tuesday night as evidence of the former, and the loss of DOMA as evidence of the latter.
“We are seeing biblical values and teachings ignored and laws that support biblical values being struck down,” Williams said.
Many European countries have adopted similar laws and values and it affected the health of churches there, he said.
“Their churches are museums — no one goes,” Williams said. “There is a fear that will happen in the U.S.”
Williams doesn’t plan on addressing the matter from the pulpit this weekend, since the church plans a patriotic service in observance of the Fourth of July holiday.
“But I’m sure it will come up in the weeks to come,” he said.
The pastors of St. Mark Catholic Church and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church were both attending a diocesan conference and not available for comment.
Pat Svacina, director of communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, said that a statement put out by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reflected the opinion of the diocese, and local church leaders put the statement on the diocese’s website.
In the statement, the bishops call it a tragic day for marriage and the nation, saying the court got it wrong.
“When Jesus taught about the meaning of marriage — the lifelong, exclusive union of husband and wife — he pointed back to ‘the beginning’ of God’s creation of the human person as male and female,” the bishops wrote, referring to Matthew 19. “In the face of the customs and laws of his time, Jesus taught an unpopular truth that everyone could understand. The truth of marriage endures, and we will continue to boldly proclaim it with confidence and charity.”
Imam Mohammed Souad, of the Islamic Society of Denton, said that members don’t agree with legalizing same-sex marriage because it is against Islam, Christianity, Judaism and other religions.
“Marriage is according to religion, not civil law — we believe that 100 percent,” Souad said.
However, the Rev. Pamela Wat, pastor at Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, said her congregation was delighted, excited and supported the Supreme Court’s decisions.
She said it’s something that’s been hoped for and the congregation has committed itself to, and she said she’s excited to see a step forward for gay rights.
As a church, Wat said, her congregation believes in marriage equality and that by standing for it they’re standing on the side of love and not fear.
She said that as a minister who officiates weddings of same-sex couples, she looks forward to the day when she can sign the legally binding license of a same-sex couple.
“I believe these decisions today are a step in that direction,” Wat said.
The Rev. Katie Klein, pastor of Cooper Creek United Methodist Church, said she supports and encourages the movement.
“It’s a huge breakthrough not just for the community, the queer community, but for all of America, especially the children involved,” Klein said.
The Rev. Craig Hunter, pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church, said he celebrates the rulings. As a pastor, he sees work ahead for churches in being more welcoming of individuals who are viewed as different.
“I think God celebrates anytime walls of separation and discrimination are brought down,” he said. “I’m very excited by this. I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
The Rev. Jeff Hood, pastor at The Church at Mable Peabody’s Beauty Parlor & Chainsaw Repair in Denton, said Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions were ones affirming humanity and love.
Established March 31, the church membership is 95 percent lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, he said.
“One of the things that I’ve encouraged our people and told our people is God is love ... and wherever love is, God is. I think today is an affirmation of love, and I think that’s very spiritual,” he said. “Ultimately, when we choose to love and we affirm the love of others, we’re not only recognizing the humanity in them but the love in them, the God in them.”
Staff writers Jenna Duncan and Bj Lewis contributed to this report.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.
GEORGE JOSEPH can be reached at 940-566-6845.