WASHINGTON (PAI) - Union leaders hailed the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to throw out the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the anti-gay law a Republican-run Congress railroaded through, and which then-President Bill Clinton signed.
By a 5-4 margin, the justices said DOMA violated the U.S. Constitution because it banned "equal protection of the laws" - in its case, more than 1,000 laws and parts of laws ranging from military death benefits to tax deductions - to same-sex couples.
The justices also let stand a lower court decision in California that tossed out the state's referendum, Proposition 8, overturning its own High Court's decision legalizing gay marriage. But by saying referendum sponsors had no standing/right to sue, the justices limited the impact of their second pro-gay ruling to California alone.
Both decisions are important to the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community, which has seen increasing acceptance of gay rights. Leaders' comments included:
"Yes! It is an historic day, at last DOMA is overturned. The California Prop 8 case also went down, for lack of standing," exclaimed Darren Phelps, executive director of Pride@Work, the AFL-CIO's gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender affinity group. Gay rights advocates waiting outside the court burst into cheers and tears of joy.
"Oh, my God, we're married!" one lesbian woman told her partner by cellphone as others around her cheered.
"For LGBT workers, the decision means married couples must be treated as married in accord-ance with the laws in their state," Phelps added. "Marriage equality is about treating all couples with respect, but it also has major financial and legal impacts that will allow more same-sex couples to more effectively support their families. We will continue efforts to win marriage equality in more states, but there are also vital issues remaining for the LGBT community - our lives are about more than marriage."
"We took a giant leap forward in the march for equality and justice for all," said teachers union President Randi Weingarten, one of several union presidents who is openly gay. "The Supreme Court ruled definitively that DOMA violated the equal protection clause and that loving married same-sex couples deserve the same rights and benefits as all other married couples. The court's decision on Prop 8, which leaves intact a district judge's ruling invalidating that measure, ensures that, at least for now, gay and lesbian couples have the freedom to marry in California.
"While we wish the court had acted to extend marriage equality for all Americans, make no mistake: Momentum for equality is building and there is no going back," she said.
"We are a nation built on the belief of equality for all -- that all Americans are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The court affirmed these basic values and recognized that laws such as DOMA deny gay and lesbian Americans these fundamental rights and betray our values as a nation.
"Today, the court got it right," Communications Workers Communications Director Candice Johnson said. "By striking down DOMA as unconstitutional, the court moves our nation closer to a place where the rights of all people are recognized and respected. The federal government should not support discrimination of any kind. Today's decision that same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits opens the door to ending all discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."
Photo: Elvert Barnes/CC