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Local Couples Celebrate Supreme Court’s Landmark Rulings on Gay Marriage

Many say the historic day finally clears the way for same-sex couples to be treated 'as equals and not hopefuls'

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the rally.]

Same-sex couples in Santa Barbara and around the country celebrated Wednesday as the U.S. Supreme Court declared the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and allowed California to become the 13th state to allow gay marriage.

The justices declined to make a decision on California’s Proposition 8, which means the 2010 federal district court ruling — that Prop. 8’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional — stands. Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered every county to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the court lifts the stay that was in place throughout the case’s appeal process.

Attorney General Kamala Harris is asking the Ninth District Court to lift the stay as soon as possible, but the court could wait until the judgment is officially handed down in 25 days.

“As soon as they lift that stay, marriages are on, the wedding bells will ring,” she said happily in a press conference.

The law will comply with the decision by Judge Vaughn Walker, who declared Prop. 8 unconstitutional and ordered every county clerk’s office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Harris said. She doesn’t except any counties to resist the order, but her office would take swift legal action if they did.

She also supported her office’s decision not to defend Prop. 8 when it was challenged in court.

“Prop. 8 will never be passed again in California, I’m sure of it,” she said, adding that she will “do everything in my personal power to make sure it wouldn’t.”

Everyone should celebrate not just because of what the decisions say, but what the decisions expect to happen — allowing couples to marry, she said.

“I think it’s personal for all of us,” she said. “This group of people was denied justice; that’s like each one of us denied justice, and in that way, I think we should all feel this is a victory personally and for our larger community and society.”

Local couple Sara Reynolds and Stephanie Farnum said the rulings will give them the same legal rights as other couples.

“Personally, I don’t believe that a law or Supreme Court ruling can determine who I am going to love for the rest of my life,” said Reynolds, a Westmont College alumnus. “I have been engaged for six months, so clearly Proposition 8 didn’t change my decision to ask Stephanie to share the rest of her life with me. But when it comes down to the details of life, all married couples need certain legal rights. For instance, I need to have the right to be with my wife in a medical emergency.

“So the ruling today takes a step in the direction of recognizing that all couples need a fair opportunity to share all of the benefits of a commitment as serious as marriage. This weekend, Stephanie and I will be in the wedding parties of our good friends who are straight. Today, I feel as though we can truly stand next to our friends as equals and not hopefuls.”

The Santa Barbara Equality Project, a part of the Pacific Pride Foundation, celebrated the news with a rally at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.

Hundreds gathered beneath the courthouse arches Wednesday night to celebrate, toasting flutes of sparkling cider and exchanging hugs.

“Today’s decision marks the historic end to California’s long struggle for marriage equality after a five-year battle to repeal the discriminatory ban,” coordinator Lauren Gunther said.

Several couples shared during the event, including Mariela Marin and her partner, Sarah McDonough. The women said that when they dropped their 5-year-old son off at school on Wednesday morning, they were overwhelmed with happiness after learning about the court’s decision.

“There was a lightness,” Marin said.

Marin said she and McDonough are secure in their identities, but that Wednesday’s ruling was a “little extra” affirmation.

Couples have been denied Social Security survivor benefits and had unequal access to family leave, spousal health care and immigration rights. They were also denied many tax benefits, having to file separately, she added.

Justices struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and determined that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to the same federal benefits as opposite-sex couples, which is a resolution of the United States v. Windsor case.

The end of DOMA doesn’t mean widespread marriage equality, “rather, because DOMA pertains specifically to the federal government’s recognition of legal marriages at the state level, the fight for full marriage equality still remains a state’s rights issue,” Equality Project leaders said in a statement.

The National Organization for Marriage, the biggest group behind Prop. 8, released a statement Wednesday condemning the SCOTUS decision.

“It’s imperative that Congress continue to preserve the right of states to protect true marriage and refuse to recognize faux marriages performed in other states or countries,” NOW president Brian Brown said. His organization vows to fight for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.

The rulings do nothing to states with constitutional amendments banning same-sex couples from marrying, which can only be overturned by ballot initiatives. Marriage equality advocates plan to start a campaign to strike down the bans, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. With California, there are 13 states and the District of Columbia that allow same-sex couples to marry.

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, called the decisions victories in the fight for marriage equality.

“And I look forward to a day that is now closer in sight than it has ever been — the day when discrimination in any form will be determined to be unacceptable and unconstitutional,” she said in a statement.

The County Clerk-Recorder’s Office handles marriage licenses and will begin issuing them again once the Ninth Circuit Court lifts the stay, according to Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Joe Holland.

“Because we had previously issued same-sex marriage licenses and ceremonies before Prop. 8, we’re pretty much set to reinstate it,” he said. “Back when we instituted it the first time, we had to change all the forms and coordinated throughout the state, changing ‘husband and wife’ to ‘spouse 1 and spouse 2,’ and that didn’t change with Prop. 8.”

He said his office didn’t receive any calls from couples on Wednesday asking about how to apply for a license or set up a marriage, but he expects a surge of demand once the stay is lifted.

The Superior Court doesn’t expect much change, though it may have more requests for civil ceremonies performed by a judge, Executive Officer Gary Blair said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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