Annandale resident Margery Gehan and her partner are planning on getting married in July. While the pair live in Virginia and attend church here, they will be married on a cruise ship, docked on the Washington, D.C.-side of the Potomac.
“Our [wedding] officiator said, ‘We have to be very careful when we are doing this because we need to make sure we’re on the D.C. side of the water because,’ he said, ‘if we’re on the Virginia side, I can’t do it,’” Gehan said.
The logistics of being wed out-of-state was thought of by the couple.
“We talked about a lot of different scenarios,” Gehan said. “We had a friend who said, ‘Why not have your ceremony at the park that’s near Wolf Trap. It’s beautiful.’ Well no we can’t because it’s in Virginia.”
Plans made, the couple may have something else to look forward to this summer involving their marriage. In June, two decisions could be made by the U.S. Supreme Court on same-sex marriage recognition, marking what could be the biggest decision on this subject in the nation’s history.
The Supreme Court heard arguments on California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 last week.
Proposition 8 (or Prop 8), a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage recognition, was on California’s ballot during the November 2008 elections. The vote overturned a previous California Supreme Court ruling that granted same-sex couples marriage rights. The constitutional amendment took effect immediately, but did not void same-sex marriages performed before Nov. 5, 2008, in the state.
Under the U.S. Defense Of Marriage Act, U.S. Supreme Court justices heard arguments as to whether the federal government can exclude same-sex couples from marriage benefits and inter-state marriage recognition. Marriage benefits include Social Security survivors’ benefits, joint-tax returns, insurance benefits for government employees and immigration statuses.
While the outcomes of these decisions would not make same-sex marriage permissible in Virginia, the local LGBTQ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer — community says it is watching the court’s proceedings closely.
“I’ve always been very involved in my church. I was baptized in the same church I go to now... I know they personally would like to see me get married in my church,” said Brian Reach, president of the relatively new advocacy group Fairfax Pride. “For this to be disallowed seems very unfair.”
Fairfax Pride kicked off its pro-LGBTQA (A-for Allies) efforts about 18 months ago and supports just over 900 members, said Reach.
“Many, many of our members did go out there [to the court] to protest,” he said. “We have some members that were married in other states and DOMA is the reason why their marriage isn’t recognized in other states.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize the impact these things, the negative impact, have on the community. There is some perception that it will trickle down [to Virginia], maybe not in a legal way, but in a cultural way.”
Equality Fairfax President Sarah Gustafson said she believes DOMA has a better chance of being overturned than Prop 8. Equality Fairfax was founded in 2002. Since then the group has advocated on same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues.
“Even if DOMA is overturned, you can’t be married in Virginia,” Gustafson said. “Hopefully, if the Supreme Court decides favorably, it will move gay marriage forward. [In Virginia] it’s going to take more time and people throughout the state lobbying their representatives.”
She said, “In Virginia, it’s more aspirational than inspirational.”
For Gehan, who commutes into D.C. for work every day, protesters and rally goers outside of the Supreme Court were a sign of hope.
“The day that the Supreme Court was hearing arguments on DOMA and Prop 8, I was coming in on the metro [to work] and I saw so many people with signs out and they were all really positive,” she said. “There was one sign that said, ‘My sister is not a second-class citizen’ and — growing up in a Catholic household — that really touched me because coming out is a difficult thing.”
Gehan said she thought about the image of the girl, who could have been a local college student, and her sign, giving up her time to show up for her family.
“I just wanted to hug her and thank her,” she said.