Rulings seen as watershed for future of gay rights

Wednesday was a “historic day” for the gay rights movement and the future of same-sex marriage in th
Chad Putman is shown on Jay Street in Schenectady in this Gazette file photo by Peter R. Barber.
Chad Putman is shown on Jay Street in Schenectady in this Gazette file photo by Peter R. Barber.

Wednesday was a “historic day” for the gay rights movement and the future of same-sex marriage in the United States, according to some local gay rights advocates and legal experts.

“I think this is a historic day for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] equality in this nation,” said Chad Putman, co-chairman of Schenectady Pride, an advocacy organization for the LGBT community in Schenectady. “We’re very fortunate because it would have been a very tragic day if the Supreme Court had come down any other way. But to have them fall on the side of equality in marriage as far as striking down DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] … is really extraordinary.”

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court made two influential rulings. One struck down DOMA, a federal law denying benefits to a spouse in a same-sex marriage, while the other involved the state of California. In that case, the Supreme Court let stand a California court’s ruling that struck down Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.

“It’s my understanding that under DOMA, anyone, any couple that was married that was inconsistent with the traditional definition of marriage, i.e. between a man and a woman, would be deprived of the opportunity [for benefits and that entities would] … not have to pay certain death benefits and things like that,” explained Helen Knowles, visiting assistant professor of government at Skidmore College and an expert on Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the DOMA decision. “There were certain aspects of federal law that they would not be able to benefit from and also would be hurt by.”

“Being a person in a committed relationship for nine years, knowing that looking forward to marrying my partner, that we can both benefit from the state … it is really exciting for us with something we’re looking forward to,” said Putman.

According to Carl Bon Tempo, an associate professor of history at the University at Albany, Wednesday’s rulings are victories for the gay rights movement that will begin to change society.

“They are victories for the gay rights movement first and foremost, but they also are not the end of the story,” said Bon Tempo. “These are a court-crafted narrow set of victories for gay rights. When we look back in 30 years, we are going to see these two decisions as part of a long continuum, part of a longer debate about gay rights in the American society. So there is a lot of action to come.”

Even though some feel that Wednesday’s rulings brought a positive outcome, others disagreed with the Supreme Court’s rulings.

“Today is a tragic day for marriage and our nation,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York in a news release. “The Supreme Court has dealt a profound injustice to the American people by striking down in part the federal Defense of Marriage Act.”

The rulings from Wednesday, particularly the DOMA ruling, are what some predict are jump-starting the process that could one day lead to same-sex marriage rights throughout the United States.

“I think that as soon as you get a case where you have a same-sex couple and they’re denied marriage in their particular state, I think that the Supreme Court must confront that,” said Vincent Bonventre, an Albany Law School professor. “And the only way to confront that is whether or not there is any justification for a state to deny same-sex marriage. And that’s coming. It’s just a matter of if it’s coming next year or the year after.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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