WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Supreme Court ruled that a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, which recognized marriage at the federal level as only between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional.
The court also decided not to take up California’s Proposition 8 ballot initiative, which banned gay marriage in the state after it was already legal. Its decision not to take up Prop 8 means that the previous ruling in the state, which ruled the initiative unconstitutional, is upheld.
As the decisions were read to the public, speculation began about how the ruling would affect gay and lesbian individuals in North Carolina, including many prominent local figures.
Lydia Lavelle, Carrboro Board of Aldermen member and assistant professor at North Carolina Central University’s School of Law, as well as the first out lesbian to run for Mayor of Carrboro, says that while DOMA is no longer in effect and previous California court rulings that overturned Prop 8 are now overturned, this decision does not immediately affect North Carolinians.
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“Nothing is different in any state where there was not already same-sex marriage,” Lavelle says. “What this is is a victory for those who live in the now-13 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is allowed.”
Tom Jensen, who has spoken with WCHL numerous times as director of Public Policy Polling, says that, as a gay man, he is happy about the rulings and their impact on the LGBTQ community but is still disappointed that the rulings will not make same-sex marriage legal across the country.
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“It’s still going to be a while before states like North Carolina get in line, especially when you look at passing Amendment One by a 22-point margin just last year,” Jensen says.
However, Jensen compares recent PPP polls that showed opposition to same-sex marriage leading by 16 points as a sign that North Carolina is gradually getting closer to overturning the marriage ban.
“You also have to have a legislature willing to put Amendment One repeal on the ballot,” Jensen says. “Obviously, this current, very Republican legislature that was responsible for Amendment One in the first place; I’m not sure if they’re going to do that.”
While DOMA, the federal law barring same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits related to marital status, was overturned, same-sex married couples living in states without recognition of their marriage, like North Carolina, would not receive benefits.
Lavelle says that, since marriage had typically been a state issue and the federal government intervened with DOMA, the legal outcome of the court’s ruling will be complicated.
“They intruded a little bit into what was previously states’ rights territory,” Lavelle says. “Now, by pulling that away, but yet it being tied to the way the state defines marriage, it’s going to get a little murkier before it gets clean.”
North Carolina amended the state’s constitution to say that “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized” on May 8, 2012 with passing of Amendment One.