Supreme Court strikes down DOMA; Few effects to be seen here
In two landmark decisions Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act and also allowed same-sex marriages in California. But the court refused to decide whether gay marriage should be allowed nationwide.
Still, gay rights groups are declaring victory -- albeit limited -- and even opponents admit their cause is now seriously hampered.
"These rulings today are a landmark, and they're an amazing sign of progress," said Adrian Shanker of Bethlehem, president of Equality Pennsylvania.
DOMA defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. A sharply divided High Court ruled the law unfairly discriminated against a specific class of married people.
The ruling now clears the way for homosexual spouses to receive federal benefits like Social Security and joint tax filing status. But the ruling is limited. It only applies to married homosexual couples living in states that recognize such marriages.
Thirteen states, including New York and Delaware, recognize same-sex marriages. Pennsylvania and New Jersey do not.
Conservative Christian groups said they were "outraged" by the ruling.
"Not fully unexpected, but disappointing," said Sam Rohrer with the Berks Co.-based Pennsylvania Pastors Network.
Rohrer admitted the ruling is a huge blow to their efforts to limit marriage to heterosexual couples.
"There will be other definitions that will come down the pike as we sit here some years from now that will not just be two men and two women, but other variations," he said.
In a separate case, the Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriages to continue in California, but did not rule on bans in 35 other states. Justices simply let a lower court ruling overturning California's Prop 8 ban stand.
"Certainly, we would have hoped that the court would have ruled for a Constitutional right to marry, but that didn't happen," said Shanker.
Shanker married his spouse in Connecticut. Since their marriage is not recognized in Pennsylvania, Wednesday's ruling does not affect them -- for now. President Obama said he will order a review of federal benefits policies. It's not clear if individual states will do the same, although Rohrer predicts an "avalanche" of lawsuits.
"There was not a moral victory today for the family," he said.
In the Lehigh Valley, Allentown and Easton already offer employee benefits to gay couples.
"There was an overwhelming amount of public support, and both bills in Allentown and Easton passed unanimously in 2011," said Shanker.
In addition, 32 cities across Pennsylvania have non-discrimination laws for homosexuals, although most don't deal with housing or other accommodations. And recently, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D - Pennsylvania, publicly supported same-sex marriage.
But how likely is gay marriage in Republican-controlled Pennsylvania?
"Right now, if they were voting on it today, you know what? Probably not," said Shanker, "but we have a lot of work ahead of us."
Rohrer thinks New Jersey could become a national litmus test. Gov. Chris Christie. a possible Republican presidential candidate, has long opposed homosexual marriage.
"I think we will soon find out whether or not his opposition has been by conviction or whether it's been political," said Rohrer.
Equality Pennsylvania held a rally Wednesday evening to celebrate the rulings. Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan appeared, along with Allentown City Council president Julio Guridy.
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