‘What about us?’ ask same-sex couples who can’t marry where they live
(CNN) — Any way you slice it, thousands of same-sex couples across the United States were thrilled by Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings. But in 37 states, some same-sex couples weren’t as happy as they’d hoped to be.
They’re the 37 states that ban same-sex marriage, and the Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 weren’t broad enough to change that status.
Don’t get them wrong, many couples in these states feel the ruling is an overall victory, especially for “our folks in California [who] can be blissfully married again,” as Maryland resident Nicolene du Toit, who anxiously awaited the ruling with her wife over the phone, put it. In addition to saying that same-sex marriages could resume in California, the court decided that same-sex spouses legally married in a state may receive federal benefits. But some couples couldn’t help but be disappointed that the rulings may not make a difference in their own states — at least for now.
“Immediately, it doesn’t mean anything,” said Brandi Ansley of Atlanta. Georgia is one of the states that does not allow same-sex marriage. “There’s no reason for us to run out and get married (in a state that allows it), because she wouldn’t be able to insure me and the children.”
South Carolina resident Jordan Sullivan agreed. “It’s a wonderful step in the right direction, but I still can’t help but feel sad and disappointed that the ruling does not extend to all states, including South Carolina,” said Sullivan, who’s been with her partner nearly three years and would like to get married. “I can only hope we won’t be like the last kid picked in gym class.”
And for couples like Casey Miller and John Martin, the federal benefits ruling brings up a number of questions that even legal experts don’t agree on. Miller and Martin were legally married in California in 2008. But they live in Texas, where same-sex marriage isn’t recognized. So will they qualify for federal tax, health and pension benefits?
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of law at the University of California-Irvine and a constitutional law expert, says yes.
“A couple that was lawfully married in a state, but moves to another state, still is married,” he said. “Their marriage has not been ended, even if not recognized in their new state. So they get all federal benefits accorded to married couples, though their marriage will not be recognized in their new state.”
But Neil Siegel, a law professor at Duke University and an expert on the Supreme Court, didn’t think the issue was quite so black and white.
“It’s not clear,” he said. “The federal agencies are going to have to decide, and different agencies may decide differently. Congress could always step in, and eventually you’re going to have federal courts ruling. There may be additional protection from certain federal agencies, but it’s not clear at this point which ones or when.”
“It wouldn’t be surprising to me to hear the president order the federal agencies to say that if [a same-sex couple] is lawfully married in one state, that they have to provide benefits wherever they’re living,” he added.
Miller finds all the uncertainty frustrating and described the rulings as “an expensive baby step.”
“Are we still second-class citizens?” he asked. Other same-sex couples in states that do not allow them to marry say they’re still worried about the same issues that plagued them before, like hospital visitation, adoption and end-of-life rights. And some say that, even if they could be afforded federal benefits by marrying in a state that allows same-sex marriage, they deserve the right to get married in the states where they’ve made their home.
“I hope the Supreme Court takes the ruling a step further to make it a national law, so we can legally get married under big oak trees in Charleston, with our friends and family from all over the world sharing the joy and excitement on a day that once didn’t seem possible,” mused Sullivan.
“To my LGBT brethren in more accepting states, especially you who got a double in California…rejoice and be happy, for this day is truly yours,” wrote R.J. McKay, an Ohio resident who’s been with his partner for 15 years. “For those of us stuck in less accepting states, this was a huge symbolic win…keep (your) eye on the prize.”
–Rachel Rodriguez, CNN/CNN’s Christina Zdanowicz, Daphne Sashin, Nicole Saidi and Julia Carpenter contributed to this report.