High court steps don't change states' ability to ban same-sex marriage
Julie Garcia The Port Arthur News
In a historic day for gay rights, the Supreme Court gave the nation’s legally married gay couples equal federal footing with all other married Americans on Wednesday and also cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.
But the decisions left intact states’ authority to allow or disallow gay marriage.
The thought of tying the knot outside of Texas is a difficult one for Jasper native Chance Henson.
And though the Supreme Court decision that ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional Wednesday does not affect how gay marriage is handled on a state level, Henson is optimistic that one day he will be able to marry his partner, Shawn, in his home state.
“I felt a huge rush of relief and happiness when I read that the Supreme Court struck down DOMA,” Henson, who now lives in Beaumont, said. “It was as if I could see the future opening up for me, Shawn and other same-sex couples.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for the DOMA case and stated that “under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways.” He added that the provision’s “principal effect [was] to identify a state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.”
Another case, dealing with California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, was resolved in a technical legal fashion that said nothing about gay marriage. But the effect was to leave in place a trial court’s declaration that California’s Proposition 8 ban was unconstitutional, clearing the way for that state to perform same-sex marriages.
On social media and major news networks, it is obvious that the two decisions have further polarized the left and the right on the subject of LGBT rights.
It doesn’t change the Texas law on same-sex marriage, though.
Theresa Goodness, chief deputy of the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office, said that she cannot recall ever receiving a marriage application from a same-sex couple.
“Most people are aware of the state law,” Goodness said. “When the Supreme Court ruling came today, it had to do with federal benefits and does not impact marriage state law, so it’s pretty much status quo in Texas for issuing marriages.”
Hypothetically if Texas were to overturn the law that bans gay marriage and a same-sex couple were to obtain a marriage license from the county clerk’s office, they would still be faced with finding a judge, pastor or rabbi to officiate the marriage.
Kenneth W. Dollinger, Justice of the Peace for Precinct 1, said he has not contemplated what he would do if faced with that prospect.
“Judges are not obligated to perfom marriages, there’s not a law that you must perform a ceremony if someone shows up and has a valid license,” Dollinger said.
The decision made by the court doesn’t clarify much on the state level, Dollinger said.
“Say you have a couple who gets married in California, moves to Texas and become residents and then decide to dissolve their marriage,” Dollinger said. “If we’re not recognizing the validity of marriage from another state, it’s going to be confusing.”
Despite all of the possible future confusion, Henson considers the decision a huge victory.
“Before we had no protection ... no matter how hard Shawn and I work and save to build a life together, it could all be torn a part and ripped away so easily,” Henson said. “Without that [federal] recognition, there was little we could do to protect each other in a thousand different scenarios.”
Now that Henson and his partner can get married in a state that recognizes legal gay marriage, he said, the U.S. government will help ensure that nobody will take away their right to take care of one another.
The rulings came 10 years to the day after the court's Lawrence v. Texas decision that struck down state bans on gay sex. In his dissent at the time, Scalia predicted the ruling would lead to same-sex marriage.
Massachusetts was the first state to allow gay couples to marry, in 2004. When same-sex unions resume in California, there will be 13 states representing 30 percent of the U.S. population where gay marriage is legal.
The other 11 are Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.