WASHINGTON – A boisterous crowd of gay-rights supporters cheered and hugged outside the Supreme Court Wednesday when word came down that the justices had overturned a federal law limiting marriage to one-man, one-woman.
And then there was Jane Rigby’s reaction.
“This sounds really geeky, but I’m excited about filing joint taxes,” said Rigby, a federal employee who used to live in Arizona and who was at the court with her wife, Andrea Leistra.
“It feels amazing that I might actually be treated the same as my other colleagues,” Rigby said.
The two were among hundreds of singing, chanting demonstrators at the court Wednesday, waving rainbow and equality flags in a peaceful rally that included only a handful of opponents of same-sex marriage.
They were all there for the court’s decision in two high-profile same-sex marriage cases, neither of which went against the supporters.
The justices, by a 5-4 vote, declined to intervene in a U.S. District Court decision that blocked California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
They also ruled 5-4 that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The act said that, for purposes of federal law, a marriage was between a man and a woman, despite what state laws may recognize.
The rulings were the best wedding presents that Ash and Kelly Hickman-Freeman could have asked for.
The South Carolina couple married Saturday in Washington, D.C., and they were spending their honeymoon in the city when they heard the Supreme Court was going to rule on the cases. Like Rigby and Leistra, they decided to turn out to show their support.
“It’s the best wedding present I could ask for,” Ash said, holding a sign that announced that she and Kelly were recently wed. As they stood in front of the court building Wednesday, people offered congratulations and a car honked in the background.
Around them advocates waved flags in the air and chanted.
“What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!” the crowd chanted.
They largely ignored a gay-marriage opponent standing across the street from the court plaza.
“Supreme Court, you are not God,” said Ronald Brock, who was wearing a T-shirt that said, “Jesus is the Standard.”
Brock said he was glad the Supreme Court sent Proposition 8 back to California, but was disappointed on the DOMA ruling.
In the hours before the ruling, many were unsure what to expect but said they hoped for strong rulings in favor of marriage equality.
“In all likelihood, gay marriage will be legal in California again very soon,” Tyler Hatch said before the rulings were announced. “I’m excited to see DOMA get struck down.”
Hatch, who grew up in Mesa but now lives in Washington, D.C., said he always knew he was gay, which made it difficult for him when his family became heavily involved in supporting California’s Proposition 8.
One Phoenix couple, Paul Hopkins and Gerardo Ramirez, had been waiting for the ruling outside the Supreme Court for three days. The two own a real estate business together in Phoenix, and got married two years ago in New York after being together since the late 1990s.
“Married couples have benefits we don’t have,” said Ramirez of the importance of the court cases.
As the crowd waited for the decisions, some gathered in a circle to sing and pray.
“Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, we shall not be moved,” they sang in unison, adding their own lyrics: “Marriage equality, we shall not be moved.”
When the news started to spread – DOMA had been struck down – the crowd erupted in cheers, and people began hugging. Some studied their phones for more details.
Rigby thought back to 2001, when she lived in Arizona with Leistra, her then-girlfriend. She doubted then that they would ever be able to get married. When Leistra proposed, Rigby responded, “Sure, when we’re 60!”
But now, they have a son, Ayden, and they live in the Washington suburbs.
“It’s cool to be married,” Rigby said, laughing. “It’s a lot of fun,” Leistra added, smiling at her wife.