(Updated 1:55 p.m.) There were cheers and tears at the West Hartford home of Elizabeth Kerrigan and Jodie Mock when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on Wednesday morning.
“Thank God for Justice Kennedy,” Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, exclaimed when the 5-4 decision was handed down.
Bye and her wife Tracey Wilson were the first gay couple to marry in Connecticut after the Supreme Court certified its 4-3 decision on Nov. 12, 2008. Another couple to marry that day in New Haven also celebrated the news of DOMA’s demise.
At a small gathering at Kerrigan’s home Wednesday, Bye and Wilson said they were excited about the possibility of filing their federal income tax return as a married couple. They currently have to file separately, which Bye said ends up costing them more. She said pension and Social Security benefits are also concerns that have been mitigated by the court’s decision.
“We no longer have to choose ‘other’,” Bye, an openly gay state lawmaker, said.
She said it wasn’t long ago, maybe a decade or so that in order to be “out” in public, Tracey and she would have to leave the state for fear of retribution from their employers. She said it wasn’t long ago that she feared running as an openly gay candidate, but public opinion is changing rapidly.
“This is the fastest civil rights movement ever because it’s all about love,” Bye said.
She said she knows heterosexuals outnumber homosexuals, but “we’re not so different.”
Carol Buckheit, who worked for Love Makes a Family, the advocacy group behind Connecticut’s push for marriage equality, was also on hand Wednesday for the celebration.
“For me it’s especially significant because I’m engaged to be married,” Buckheit said.
So while it’s personal for Buckheit, it’s also a recognition that the gay rights movement has a long way to go. There are still more than 30 states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage.
Bye said even with the two or three lesbian attorneys in the room it’s still not clear whether a Pennsylvania couple can marry in Connecticut, where same-sex marriage is legal, and then enjoy those same rights under federal law when they return to Pennsylvania.
“To have the federal government come to a place to recognize us is huge,” Kerrigan said.
She said she could never understand why the government was “trying to withhold something that’s so hard to have.”
“Marriage is hard,” she added.
As the lead plaintiff in the Connecticut case along with seven other couples, Kerrigan said today’s decision reversing DOMA “feels much grander to me.”
She said she’s just as emotional as she was when the Connecticut Supreme Court issued its decision, but she can’t help think about where it began.
Asked to explain where the movement started, Kerrigan joked “I started deep in the closet.”
The 58-year-old said all she had to do was be honest with herself about who she was.
Bye said if everyone in the country was under the age of 30, then marriage equality would be a “no brainer.”
She said that was evident from the reaction of the three young boys at Kerrigan’s home Wednesday.
Kerrigan and Mock have two sons, Carlos and Fernandez, who had a neighborhood friend over watching the Scotus blog being projected on the wall in their dining room. The boys friend Leo used a baseball analogy to sum up the anxiety in the room as they waited for the decision to appear. He said it was like the bottom of the sixth inning and the home team is down by one run with runners on base and a batter in the box with a full count.
When the decision was handed down there were cheers, then tears, as the gravity of it began to sink in.
The Defense of Marriage Act “violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government,” Kennedy wrote.
“Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways,” Kennedy wrote. “By its great reach, DOMA touches many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound. It prevents same-sex married couples from obtaining government healthcare benefits they would otherwise receive.”
The court also allowed a lower court ruling overturning Proposition 8 in California to stand and did not rule based on the merits of the case, which means same-sex marriage will be legal in California.
Gay marriage is currently legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Today’s ruling in the DOMA case may open the door for more states to move in that direction or at least that’s what the women celebrating at Kerrigan’s home Wednesday would like to see happen.