Robert Graves was in a meeting when a friend texted him the news. Ethan Robinson saw it in an email. Kitty Lambert-Rudd heard it first from a contact in Washington, D.C.
By phone and text, on CNN and social media, news of the Supreme Court’s ruling that threw out a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act spread quickly throughout the LGBTQ community and Western New York on Wednesday.
The overwhelming reaction to the decision, which extends to same-sex couples the civil protections long taken for granted by heterosexual couples, was of joy and validation. But many pointed out that much work remains.
The court’s ruling didn’t come soon enough for Donald Licht, who lost his spouse, Jim Haynes, in November 2008, a year and a half after they tied the knot in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Licht said he wasn’t eligible for the civil benefits that with Wednesday’s ruling, are enshrined in the 12 states that recognize same-sex marriage.
“I’ve been working for gay liberation since 1970. When we first began, we were worried about people losing their apartments and their jobs. We never dreamed marriage was possible. The most important thing about this is it recognizes we have equal rights with everybody else,” he said.
Licht was one of many local gay rights activists who reacted with jubilation after learning of the court decision.
“I think striking down DOMA – our Jim Crow law, which manifestly declared we were unequal to other populations – is the most significant advance for queer civil rights since the original decriminalization of homosexuality in 2003,” said Jonathan Katz, a gay activist who directs the University at Buffalo’s doctoral program in visual studies.
“This decision now opens the possibility that we can actually make marriage a federal right, and with that same-sex marriages will be made equal, and that’s huge.”
Lambert-Rudd, who with Cheryle Lambert-Rudd became the first lesbian couple married in New York State on July 24, 2011, was also overjoyed by the court’s decisions.
“This is honestly as good a day as the day New York State passed [same-sex] marriage,” she said. “People who had marriage for decades have often not understood the complexity of this for our families. This was about civil protections under the law – our right to protect our assets, our inheritance, our families, our children. That’s what made this struggle so critical for us.”
At a Wednesday evening celebration, hosted by the El Museo Gallery in Allentown and sponsored by local gay rights groups such as Stonewall Democrats, OUTspoken for Equality and Fabulous Friends of WNY, revelers duct-taped gay pride flags to trees and bike posts as loudspeakers pumped out upbeat music.
Marvin Henchbarger said the high court ruling will make a profound change in her life and that of other married gay and lesbian couples.
“I have been paying into the Social Security system since I was 18 – for 48 years – and up until this morning, if I died before Laurie, she was not going to get any of my Social Security benefits,” said Henchbarger, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Services of WNY, referring to married partner Laurie Dean Torrell.
Henchbarger said she and Torrell were “stunned into silence” when they heard the court’s decision.