On Wednesday, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a move that restores federal benefits for same-sex couples that are legally married. Also, by not ruling on Proposition 8 case (which challenged California's same-sex marriage ban), the Supreme Court effectively said same-sex marriages are still legal in that state and can resume immediately.
With the ruling, same-sex couples in the 13 states that recognize their marriages "will [be] entitled to equal treatment under federal law, with regard to income taxes and Social Security," the SCOTUSblog clarified this morning.
While the decisions won't directly impact couples and their families in Texas (because our state laws ban same-sex marriage), many see this as a sign of hope and a critical step in the right direction for marriage equality.
"I'm very excited and I think the Supreme Court did a great job of recognizing equality, but we still have a lot of work to do in terms of achieving full rights in Texas," said Todd Cannon, a board member of the Austin chapter of the Human Right Campaign, a national organization working for marriage equality and LGBT families.
A ban on same-sex marriage has been on the books in Texas since 2005. However, according to a poll by Equality Texas, a statewide advocacy organization that lobbies for "the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression," Texas voters' support of marriage equality has increased by 5.2 percent over the last three year and is now up to between 47 and 48 percent in favor of it. With numbers like that, Canon sees change coming soon.
"This excitement behind the decisions is huge," he told CultureMap. "We will work very closely with groups like Equality Texas and tap in to this energy, and continue working with our elected officials and volunteers."
Texas couples like Brian Stephens and Andy Miller, local Austin dads who recently started a nonprofit called The Handsome Father supporting gay men wanting to start families, are motivated by the outcome and are happy for the families that the rulings protect. They know, though, the work isn't over.
"For me, it was a striking moment to hear coming out of the TV that the Supreme Court said once and for all that our family is as equal as any other family out there," Stephens explained. "It's a step in the right direction for what we think will eventually happen."
Miller added, "Even if we went to California, got married, and came back to Texas, we'd still be treated as not being married. If the federal government were able to recognize us, our marriage, even though we lived in Texas, that would give us everything."
Aside from health care and other benefits, Texas' ban on same-sex marriage becomes especially complicated when same-sex couples in Texas want to adopt children. The state prohibits them from being married, and also prohibits two unmarried people from adopting a child. In the case of same-sex adoptions, couples in Texas have to file separately, leaving a child with only one legal parent. Stephens and Miller adopted their son Clark six years ago.
"If we were married, we could jointly apply for adoption and the baby would have two parents from day one," Miller said. "It's just one example of unequal treatment based on sexual orientation and gender and the ability to be married. [The Texas law] says you can't do something unless you're married, but [the law] isn't going to let you be married. It forces the law to treat you unequally."
Almost as soon as the rulings were announced, the national Human Rights Campaign called on the Obama administration to broadly implement the decision. To learn more about what is next for marriage equality in the United States, you can read up on everything atwww.hrc.org.
Austinites are gathering downtown Wednesday night to celebrate the court rulings. You can find more information on the HRC Austin Facebook page.