PORTLAND, Maine — More than 60 same-sex marriage supporters gathered inside Portland City Hall on Wednesday evening to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and vow to continue fighting state-level gay marriage bans where they still exist.
Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, was among several speakers at the Portland rally urging attendees to enjoy the moment and to support activists in states where same-sex marriages have yet to be legalized. Maine voters legalized same-sex marriages last fall.
Mary Bonauto, a Maine resident and attorney widely credited as a major player in the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act, said the high court’s ruling sets the stage for what she hopes will ultimately be a declaration of gay marriage bans as unconstitutional. Bonauto, who was in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, successfully challenged the act in the First Circuit Court of Appeals last year and helped coordinate the amicus briefs in the Supreme Court challenge.
“The court was just so clear that laws that disadvantage gay people are a core violation of our equality guarantee,” Bonauto told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday night in a telephone interview. “The DOMA decision was not about changing state laws. DOMA was about DOMA, but the equality principles were clear. The court really had a clear feel for what it does to people who have families and you demean them and stigmatize them and tell them they’re unworthy. … I do think this issue will return to the Supreme Court in a few years, and I hope by that point we have more states that allow same-sex couples to get marriage licenses.”
At the rally Wednesday, Bellows called for the Portland celebrants — many of whom represented organizations that lobbied for the legalization of same-sex marriage here by voters last November — to donate time and money to groups in states such as New Jersey and Michigan, where similar legalization efforts are picking up steam.
“Today’s [Supreme Court] decision applies to states where same-sex marriages are legal, but it doesn’t apply to states that still discriminate against same-sex couples,” Bellows said.
In a 5-4 decision, the country’s highest court declared as unconstitutional Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which limited the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman for the purposes of federal benefits.
As a result, couples including Steve Ryan and Jim Bishop, who attended the Portland celebration, will have their Maine marriage recognized under federal law.
“We can be together in a nursing home,” said Ryan. “We can file joint taxes.”
For Alissa and Maggie Poisson, the Supreme Court decision means they won’t run into any federal custody questions surrounding their month-old son if one of them is hurt while the family is out-of-state vacationing or visiting friends, Alissa said.
“As a practical matter, same-sex couples have been treated as singles under federal law even when they’ve been married in their states. In Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal for a decade, it’s been really damaging to people who have been single in the federal government’s eyes but married in their state,” Bonauto said, saying the demise of DOMA allows gay and lesbian spouses to sponsor green cards and qualify for military housing allowances.
“This affects over a thousand federal laws,” Bonauto said.