By SHERYL GAY STOLBERGJUNE 26, 2015
WASHINGTON — In Detroit, Atlanta and Austin, Tex., same-sex couples rushed to courthouses to marry. Here in the nation’s capital, people wiped away tears as a gay men’s chorus sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the marble steps of the Supreme Court. In Cincinnati, Mayor John Cranley presided over a public same-sex wedding ceremony as a guitarist played acoustic melodies near a fountain in a downtown square.
But within hours of the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to grant a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, there was confusion, delay and denunciation in some of the most conservative pockets of the Deep South, reflecting the deep divisions in the country over whether gay people should be able to legally wed.
The ruling overturned same-sex marriage bans in 13 states, and gay Americans broke out in joyous celebration, holding rallies, street parties, Champagne toasts and instant weddings.
“It took 22 years to get this,” said Gina Dawson, 48, beaming as she and her longtime partner, Charlotte Rutherford, 53, left the Travis County Clerk’s Office in Austin, clutching their marriage license. As they waited Friday morning for the clerk’s office to open, she said, “We sat in the parking lot and cried.”
In Texas, Ms. Dawson and Ms. Rutherford were among nearly 200 couples, most of them gay, to receive marriage licenses in Travis County on Friday, with dozens still waiting in line in the evening to fill out paperwork. Still, the state’s Republican leadership condemned the decision — Attorney General Ken Paxton called it “a flawed ruling” — and in other counties, there were exceptions and delays as clerks waited for new license applications. The forms, completed by evening, replace the words “man” and “woman” with “applicant one” and “applicant two.”
In Mississippi, at least one couple wed in Hattiesburg before the attorney general, Jim Hood, advised circuit court clerks in all 82 counties to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses immediately while awaiting an appeals court ruling that will effectively implement the Supreme Court’s decision. Gov. Phil Bryant sounded defiant, saying that the Supreme Court had usurped the state’s “right to self-governance” and that it had imposed a mandate that is “certainly out of step with the majority of Mississippians.”
And in Alabama — where same-sex marriage ceremonies began in February but came to a halt in March after a clash between state and federal judges — some couples were able to wed in major cities like Birmingham and Montgomery, but others were stopped by local officials. Officials in at least one county, Pike, have for months refused to issue marriage licenses to couples of any sexual orientation, and said they had no plans to resume.
In an interview, Chief Justice Roy Moore of the State Supreme Court, who has led the charge against same-sex marriage in Alabama, compared Friday’s decision to other wrongly decided cases, including the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which held that African-Americans could not be citizens. He said he would continue to press for an amendment to the Constitution banning same-sex marriage. “I believe that would be what it takes to overcome this errant Supreme Court,” he said, adding, “There’s got to be some way to draw them back to reality.”
News of the decision rocketed around social media, with 3.8 million people in the United States making 10.1 million related likes, posts, comments and shares on Facebook. In the four hours after the decision, Twitter recorded more than 6.2 million messages about the ruling.
Corporate websites also took note. Delta splashed a rainbow flag across its landing page, with the tag line “Marriage Takes Flight,” and Uber put rainbow flags on the backs of cars on the main page of its ride-sharing app. Citi, which sponsors New York City’s bike-share program, put rainbows on its bicycles, calling the program #RideWithPride.
Coming on the eve of weekend gay pride celebrations in New York and San Francisco — and on the same date, June 26, as two previous landmark Supreme Court decisions on gay rights in 2003 and 2013 — the ruling was widely anticipated by legal analysts. Even so, among gay people (and many straight ones), it unleashed feelings more intense than many could predict.
“Oh my God, I was teary-eyed,” said Bill McGinnis, a 67-year-old retired teacher, who met and fell in love with his partner, Steve Dickey, 64, a social worker, in Michigan 45 years ago. The two men exchanged their vows in a “mock wedding” in 1970, reaffirmed them in 1995 on their 25th wedding anniversary, and yet again in 2013, during a civil union commitment ceremony on a beach in Maui.
But the one thing they could not do, in their home state, Michigan, was legally wed. On Friday, within an hour of the Supreme Court’s decision, they became the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Detroit. Mr. McGinnis said, “I never thought this day would come in Michigan.”
In Atlanta, Emma Foulkes, a financial planner and president of Atlanta’s Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and her partner, Petrina Bloodworth, who have been together for 10 years, became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Georgia. They were already in line for a marriage license at the Fulton County Courthouse downtown when the Supreme Court’s decision was announced; moments later, they marched down the hall to a courtroom, accompanied by Ms. Foulkes’s 22-year-old son, Raimus, who bore witness. “This is not about us, this is about everyone and our love being legitimized,” Ms. Foulkes said.
In Cincinnati, Ryan Messer, a community leader who is gay, breathed a sigh of relief; he and his husband, who married in New York in 2013, are expecting a baby in 12 weeks. Now, Mr. Messer said, both fathers can be on the birth certificate.
In New York, hundreds gathered at the steps of City Hall as Mayor Bill de Blasio officiated at two weddings and a ceremony to renew the vows of a third couple. “Today, love wins,” Mr. de Blasio said to a cheering crowd.
And in San Francisco, a city whose Castro neighborhood has for decades been an center of American gay life and culture, a movie theater marquee read “Put a Ring on It!” Jennifer Deavers, who lives in Manassas, Va., almost skipped down the street Friday morning, and cried when her wife, Beatriz, held up her cellphone with news of the ruling.
“I thought, I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,” she said, adding, “I’m going to stop saying ‘my spouse,’ and start saying ‘my wife, my wife, my wife.’ ”
The ruling reflected an astonishing shift in public sentiment around same-sex marriage, which now has majority — though hardly universal — support. More than half of Americans, 54 percent, believe there should be a federal law regarding same-sex marriages in all 50 states, and 57 percent support legalizing it, according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll published this week.
For some gay-rights advocates, the ruling is a victory and an ending. In 1983, as a Harvard law student, Evan Wolfson wrote a thesis arguing for a right to same-sex marriage. Now, Mr. Wolfson, who as founder of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry is one of the principal architects of the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage, is making plans to go out of business.
“We will close in a matter of months,” he said.
Here in Washington, a roar let out on the steps of the court shortly after 10 a.m. as the justices stated what many gathered there said they have long believed: Marriage is a fundamental right. But opponents also made themselves heard.
Christine Weick, 51, a Michigan native who has been traveling the country for three years opposing same-sex marriage as part of what she calls a personal “ministry,” said Friday’s ruling was a major disappointment — though she expected it. “I knew this was coming,” she said.
In the courtroom, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — who had already written three landmark gay rights decisions — read excerpts from his ruling to hushed spectators. “It was just a moment,” said Debbie Katz, a gay civil rights lawyer who was there, “when you knew you were part of history.”
Reporting was contributed by Erik Eckholm and Ileana Najarro from New York; Manny Fernandez from Houston; Nick Corasaniti and Nicholas Fandos from Washington; Alan Blinder from Hilton Head Island, S.C.; Malia Wollan from San Francisco; Bill Vlasic and Erin Einhorn from Detroit; Clay Bolton from Atlanta; Kimberly Dishongh from Little Rock, Ark.; Ellen Ann Fentress from Jackson, Miss.; Glenny Brock from Birmingham, Ala.; John Mura from Louisville, Ky.; and David Montgomery from Austin, Tex.