June 26, 2013
Gay rights advocates in Charlottesville are calling the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act a major victory for their cause.
"We're still kind of in disbelief," said Brian McCrory, who is engaged to be married to his boyfriend. They are planning a wedding in Washington, D.C., and McCrory says the court's decision makes his upcoming wedding even more important.
"We're really excited and the timing is impeccable," McCrory said. "It's amazing how all of these things have sort of come to fruition when they have."
McCrory and other gay rights advocates gathered on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall to celebrate on Wednesday afternoon.
"Over the moon," said Buck Smith, describing his feelings about the decision. "That's basically the best way of putting it." Smith has been with his same-sex partner for 12 years. He says the decision makes it more likely they will tie the knot.
"With Maryland and D.C. both having marriage equality, we definitely have looked into going up there and getting married," Smith said.
Reverend Melanie Miller, the leader of Sojourners United Church of Christ in Charlottesville, leads a congregation of people supportive of same-sex marriage.
"For all my years of advocacy and my years of praying and working, this day is such a joyful day," Miller said.
"They know us for who we really are and understand that we just want what everybody else has," McCrory said.
But their fight is not over. There are still legal questions about how the decision will apply to gay couples who married elsewhere, but live in Virginia, where same-sex marriage is still not recognized.
"It's like I have a special coupon," said Julia Weed, who married her lesbian partner in D.C. two years ago. "My marriage certificate should say at the bottom, 'Good in these 12 states and the District of Columbia.'"
One thing about this decision is clear, according to attorney Andre Hakes.
"You're not going to be considered legally married in Virginia for purposes of state law," Hakes said. In other words, the decision does not reverse Virginia's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The question is more complicated when it comes to federal benefits.
"There is no clear guideline at those agencies right now because it's not been an issue that they've ever had to think about," Hakes said.
Hakes predicts that President Barack Obama will issue an executive order that will tell all federal agencies to recognize gay marriages, even if the couple lives in a state that does not recognize it.
The advocates that met on the mall are hopeful that Virginia will change its same-sex marriage ban.
"I firmly believe that the voters in Virginia will overturn it eventually," said Smith.
"Love always wins," said McCrory. "But sometimes we have to be patient."