By: Jennifer Huffman
Back in 2008, Deb Stallings of Napa and her wife, Carol Whichard, were the first same-sex couple in Napa County to receive a marriage license.
While California had already approved their union, on Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court went one giant step further when it declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States, a historic culmination of decades of litigation over gay marriage and gay rights generally.
“I’m pretty darn happy” about the ruling, Stallings said Friday morning. “I don’t think we’re surprised, maybe because it has seemed so fundamentally fair to us for so long. I think we were just waiting for history to catch up to justice and that happened today,” she said.
Gay and lesbian couples already could marry in California and 35 other states and the District of Columbia. The court’s 5-4 ruling means the remaining 14 states, in the South and Midwest, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.
“For me and my wife, it has such huge implications,” Stallings said. For example, “When we go home to Tennessee every year, we are acutely aware that every time we step off the plane, we’re no longer married.”
Napa residents Hannah Cohen and Haidi Arias, who just celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary, were in tears Friday morning as they watched the announcement of the Supreme Court ruling.
“We were really touched,” Arias said Friday afternoon at her St. Helena office. “I never thought I would see the day, but something happened in the last five or six years since we’ve been married that there was hope. For this day to come was so nice.”
Arias, who is the city of St. Helena’s Recreation Director, said, “Everyone wants to be treated equally. We just want to be normal and have the same rights as everyone else does. We’re the same family just as my brother has his wife and my sister has a husband with kids, I have a wife and I have a kid. We’re all the same.”
“It’s a good day to be an American and be here,” Arias said.
The decision “is a huge win … and a win for equality and love is a win for all of us,” wrote Ian Stanley, program director at Napa’s LGBTQ Connection.
The ruling means that “same-sex couples seeking to be married are deserving of equal dignity in the eyes of the law, core values that everyone can celebrate, and in perfect time for LGBTQ Pride festivities this weekend,” he added.
However, other equality issues still remain, he said. For example, “It’s still legal to fire LGBTQ people in a majority of states. Transgender women are still being murdered for their identity. Many LGBTQ youth seek safety on the streets when they face rejection from their own families. LGBTQ immigrants are still being detained and face abuse.”
“So, while we are all rightly celebrating this occasion, we should keep in mind the fight for justice, equality and dignity isn’t over,” said Stanley.
“I hope LGBTQ people and their allies will stay vigilant and keep having those hard conversations that it’s going to take to really live equally,” added Stallings.
Not everyone agreed with the ruling. Catholic Bishop Robert F. Vasa of the Diocese of Santa Rosa said the Supreme Court got it wrong.
Vasa cited an 1857 case, the Dred Scott decision, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “blacks were not persons.”
“Today’s justices have erred just like their predecessors did with Dred Scott, by making an egregious error in moral judgment,” he wrote in a statement.
“While five justices may have changed marriage’s legal definition, they can never change its moral definition,” as a union between one man and one woman including procreation and the education of children, he wrote.
Pat Hampton, publisher of the Calistoga Tribune, celebrated the decision, noting that it came on the heels of her marriage to Ramona Asmus.
“Our marriage is only eight months old, although we have been together for 35 years, raised a son and became part of the Calistoga community,” Hampton said. “Our wedding ceremony, in front of 150 friends and family, transitioned us as from just two gay women who live together to legally married couple. We never thought in our lifetimes the law of the land would be gay marriage rights. We’re still stunned. But joyful!”
Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said the rainbow flag went back up over Calistoga City Hall Friday morning to recognize the landmark court decision.
“Recognizing and protecting marriage equality for all Americans is important and is the right thing to do,” Canning said. “In terms of its impact on Calistoga, this is an open and accepting community that demonstrates the importance of equality every day. This decision helps to recognize and validate the contributions that all of our citizens make regardless of who they love.”
Napan Rick Turko, who married his husband, Rob, in 2013, said he was pleased about the decision.
“It was definitely what I was hoping for. It’s a huge step,” said Turko. “I am still trying to fully appreciate what this all means.”
“I think between December 2013 when we got married and yesterday, it always felt funny for me to refer to Rob as my husband, because it wasn’t the law of the land. And now it is the law of the land,” he said. “It’s not a stamp of approval, because there’s going to be a lot of people that don’t agree with this, but it’s almost a seal of legitimacy.”
American Canyon residents Sande Sutter and Nance Matson married in 2008. They were active in the movement to legalize gay marriage in California.
“It’s a huge burden that’s been lifted,” said Sutter. “It creates safety and lifts an enormous weight.”
For example, if one of us gets hurt now, the other take care of them without there being any legal hurdles to get in the way, said Sutter.
Sutter just retired as a school teacher at Benicia High School. She noticed how hard it’s been on gay kids at school or when they go to church “and are told how horrible I am.” In the wake of the ruling, “I’m hoping some of that [anti-gay] noise goes away.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, just as he did in the court’s previous three major gay rights cases dating to 1996. It came on the anniversary of two of those earlier decisions.
“No union is more profound than marriage,” Kennedy wrote, joined by the court’s four more liberal justices.
The four dissenting justices each filed a separate opinion explaining his views, but they all agreed that states and their voters should have been left with the power to decide who can marry.
“This court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in dissent.
Justice Antonin Scalia said he was not concerned so much about same-sex marriage but about “this court’s threat to American democracy.” Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas also dissented.
President Barack Obama welcomed the decision via Twitter, calling it “a big step in our march toward equality.”
The states affected by Friday’s ruling are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, most of Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report, as did Dave Stoneberg, editor of the St. Helena Star, Anne Ward Ernst, editor of the Weekly Calistogan and Noel Brinkerhoff, editor of the American Canyon Eagle.