BANGOR, Maine — Bev Uhlenhake said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act was “emotional” for her.
Justices also vacated California voters’ repeal of that state’s same-sex marriage law, clearing the way for gay couples to wed there for the first time since 2008.
Uhlenhake legally married her longtime partner Sue Teeney Uhlenhake at the couple’s Brewer home on March 3. Their three children along with a small group of family and friends attended.
Maine voters in November approved same-sex marriage in the state, but until the high court’s 5-4 decision Wednesday, their union was not recognized in all 50 states.
“First and foremost, this is an emotional victory for my family,” Bev Uhlenhake said shortly after the decision was announced at 10 a.m. in Washington, D.C. “I now know that my kids will grow up knowing that their parents are legally married, not just in Maine but in all the states. Practically speaking, it means we can travel throughout the U.S. without bringing a lot of [legal] paperwork.”
Uhlenhake, her future wife and their then-1-year-old son, Ben Uhlenhake, were among the more than 3,000 people who turned out for a public hearing in April 2009 before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry.
The bill was passed by the Legislature and signed by then-Gov. John Baldacci. It was repealed by voters in November 2009.
“The bottom line is that it means my wife is my wife, according to the U.S. government,” Uhlenhake said.
There are more than 1,100 places in federal laws and programs in which being married makes a difference — from eligibility for family medical leave to social security survivor’s benefits and access to health care for a spouse, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
“This is fantastic news for loving, committed same-sex couples and their families across Maine, in California and around the country,” Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine said. “The Constitution’s promise of equal treatment is now more real for countless Americans and their families. These are tremendous victories.”
She also expressed gratitude to U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, and U.S Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, both Democrats, who signed a “friend of the court” brief in the case challenging DOMA.
The national ACLU represented Edie Windsor in United States v. Windsor, a challenge to Section 3 of DOMA. Windsor was forced to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes after her spouse, Thea Spyer, died in 2009. Edie and Thea were together for 44 years. They were able to legally marry two years before Thea’s death.
Carroll Conley, executive director of the Maine organization that spearheaded the campaign last year opposing gay marriage, said he was pleased the court’s decisions did not legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.
“The Christian Civic League disagrees with the Supreme Court’s opinion that DOMA is unconstitutional by ruling states have the right to force a definition of marriage upon the federal government,” he said in a statement issued several hours after the decisions were announced.
“These decisions do not change the timeless truth that marriage is the union between one man and one woman, and a society as a whole and children benefit from this model,” he continued. “We believe these decisions leave options open for the vigorous advocacy of traditional marriage on a state-by-state basis.”
Bishop Richard J. Malone, the former head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said that Americans “cannot surrender to the growing distortion of what God has created marriage to be.”
“This is truly a tragic day for marriage and for our nation. Today’s Supreme Court decision goes against everything human reason teaches us about marriage — it is the union of one man and one woman open to the birth and rearing of children,” Malone, who now heads the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y. said. “Marriage between one man and one woman is not the same as same-sex relationships. Therefore, treating them differently is not unjust discrimination and should not be ruled as such.”
The Maine diocese donated $500,000 and lent a staffer full-time to the 2009 campaign that repealed Maine’s gay marriage law. The bishop opposed last year’s successful same-sex marriage referendum but did not donate money or lend staff to the campaign.
Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills applauded the court’s decisions. Maine had signed onto an amicus brief in the case, according to a press release issued by her office.
“Equal protection under the law is the bedrock on which America’s legal foundation is built,” Mills said. “Striking down DOMA extends the benefits, rights and responsibilities of marriage to all committed couples. DOMA created a separate, but not equal, class of married couples in Maine. This decision recognizes the dignity of same sex couples and will ensure equal treatment for them under hundreds of federal laws and regulations.”
Members of Maine’s Congressional delegation praised the court’s decision on DOMA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 before any of them were elected.
Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said that in 2004 and 2006, she voted against proposed Constitutional amendments to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
“I did so because states have traditionally handled family law,” she said in a prepared statement. “I agree with the court’s decision that the federal government should not discriminate against couples married in states that choose to legalize same-sex marriages.”
King called the decision “important and good.”
“Today, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered justice to thousands of gay Americans who, although legally married, have for far too long been wrongly denied the equality they deserve under the law. The landmark ruling represents a significant step forward in ensuring that all married couples – all married couples – enjoy equal treatment under federal law and have access to all relevant benefits and protections,” King said in a prepared statement.
Michaud, who recently announced he’s considering a run for governor said in a prepared statement he “was proud to speak out publicly for the freedom to marry when Question 1 was on the ballot last year, and I was personally proud to vote ‘Yes’ to allow all loving, committed couples in our state to obtain a marriage license.”
“I applaud the justices for striking down the discriminatory ban that prohibits legally married same-sex couples and their children in states like Maine from receiving all of the rights, protections and responsibilities marriage affords,” he said.
“DOMA was a bad law to begin with and the Supreme Court did the right thing in striking it down,” Pingree said in a prepared statement. “As voters and legislatures in Maine and states throughout the country have shown, the government has no business telling two people in a loving, committed relationship that they can’t get married.”