Local couples talk about the impact of the SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality in the last 12 months
It’s been a year since the U.S. Supreme Court issued it’s landmark ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges, making marriage equality the law of the land, and in those 12 months, about 123,000 same-sex couples have been legally married in this country, according to a study released Wednesday, June 22, by Gallup.
The study, based on interviews conducted over the last year by Gallup, shows that 49 percent of the same-sex couples in the U.S. who live together are now legally married, up from 38 percent before the ruling. That means that about 9.6 percent of the gays and lesbians in this country are married, up almost 2 percent from 7.9 percent before the marriage equality ruling.
And according to the Williams Institute, a progressive think-tank based at the UCLA School of Law and dedicated to independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity, those marriages generated about $1.58 billion in the federal economy, and added about $102 million in state and local sales tax revenue.
That level of spending, Williams Institute researchers say, could support an estimated 18,900 jobs for one full year.
That’s a lot of money in a lot of pockets.
But for same-sex couples in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex who got married in the last 12 months or who finally had their legal marriages performed elsewhere legally recognized here at home, it’s not about the money at all.
“It’s breathtaking!” declared longtime activist Louise Young. “the absolute joy I’ve seen on the faces of couples that have gotten married! The pure joy that same-sex couples have is something we didn’t have before.
“It’s like waking up from a dream and realizing [the dream is] real.”
Young and her wife, Vivienne Armstrong, have been a couple since they met on the campus of University of Colorado at Boulder in 1971. They went to Vermont for a civil union on July 24, 2000, when Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to recognize civil unions. They were married in California on Aug. 22, 2008, during the window between a state supreme court ruling legalizing marriage there and the vote on Proposition 8 that rescinded legal recognition. Then they were married again in Oklahoma on Oct. 14, 2014 at Young’s high school reunion.
Armstrong pointed out that the Obergefell ruling has had far-reaching effects, beyond that walk down the aisle.
“So many people who’ve taken advantage of marriage have so many rights that impact their lives,” she said. “A friend of ours who died recently, her wife had rights while she was dying and rights after death as a surviving spouse. But I am saddened that some people who have taken advantage of marriage have been outed and fired.”
Steve Atkinson, who married his long-term partner, Ted Kincaid, in California in 2008 before Prop 8 passed, also noted that hasn’t been all roses.
“It’s been a very interesting year, in mostly good ways. But it’s also been a mixed bag,” Atkinson said. “On the negative side of things, when we won marriage rights, that unleashed a whole new round of hate against us, against all LGBT people. There have been a lot of so-called religious freedom bills and stuff, and all of it is really just a license to discriminate against us.
“People got pissed off that we got marriage rights. They’re angry about that, so they are trying to take away our other rights and protections,” he added. “We still don’t have workplace protections. So we can get married, yes, but we can also still be fired for being gay.”
Linus Spiller married his partner of 18 years, Gregory Craft, in February 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Craft says the marriage equality ruling has “changed the conversation. Because it’s the law, [people] have to find something else petty to talk about now.”
But while the law has changed, Spiller said, a lot of attitudes haven’t. “Young people aren’t so bad,” he said. “But those my age and older have been the most resistant, as well as religious people. They have been the absolute worst. They feel like something has been taken from them, when it hasn’t.
“Every day, someone I interact with, either in person or online socially, has something negative to say,” Spiller added. “They do it covertly usually, but the attitude is still there. And I attack it each time it rears its head, whether I hurt feelings or not.”
But still, the joy that Young described is there — even for couples who have spent many years together and were legally married somewhere before the June 26, 2015 SCOTUS ruling made their marriages legal everywhere.
“What it means to me personally is that our life for the last 18 years together has not been in vain,” Craft said. “It’s actually recognized that we matter. It’s not just a fantasy or a fad.”
He continued, “For me, it has solidified our union. I am able to call Linus ‘my husband’ with strong conviction. Sometimes I notice people’s reaction when I call Linus my husband, and it tickles me. But I don’t care.”
Spiller said he and Craft have always had a good response from their families, who were only upset that the two eloped to D.C. instead of getting married locally, where family could participate.
“Once we save enough money to renew our vows and a have a reception the way we want to do it, we are going to have a tough time deciding who’s going to be in the wedding party, because everyone is jockeying for a slot,” he laughed.
Atkinson said he and Kincaid now “make a conscious effort to use the word ‘husband’” when referring to one another.
“Even though we’ve been together 26 years and legally married for almost eight years, we never made an effort to use the word ‘husband’ until the ruling last year,” Atkinson said. “Now we keep each other in check and make sure we use it — not because words are magical, it’s just important that people hear it. The more we treat it as a natural thing, the more people get used to it and accept it.
“We have to boldly put ourselves out there,” Atkinson said. “Just as it’s been important throughout the history of our community to come out [as LGBT people], it’s important now to be open about the fact that we are married, and that our marriage is as normal as any heterosexual marriage.”
Patti Fink and Erin Moore, another long-term couple active in DFW’s LGBT community and in Democratic politics statewide, were married on April 1, by Judge Teena Callahan in her courtroom. Callahan was the first family court judge in Texas to declare — in granting a divorce decree for a same-sex couple in 2009 — that Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed individual states to ignore the legality of same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, was unconstitutional.
“Considering the long fight we had — first to prevent a constitutional amendment banning marriage through to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing marriage — getting married by a judge who is a personal friend and who had a part in that fight made it all the more meaningful.”
And even though its been 12 months, it’s still sometimes hard to believe. “I still have to almost pinch myself sometimes at this great victory we’ve won,” Atkinson said. “Most of us never dreamed we’d have marriage this soon. Ten years ago, I would have said I’d be an old, old old man before that happened. And now, here we are.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 24, 2016.