DOMA decision: Great day for same-sex couples, supporters say -- Gazette.Net







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Bill Mitchell said that when last week’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings came down, he almost started crying in the middle of a meeting.

Mitchell lives in Olney with his husband of nine years, David Vignolo. They were married in Massachusetts.

They’re both federal employees, but until last week, they wouldn’t have been able to add each other to their federal health benefit programs or receive other federal recognition of their marriage.

“It was such an overwhelming feeling of happiness and relief,” Mitchell said.

Supreme Court justices ruled 5-4 that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional because it violated protections of the Fifth Amendment. The law “singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition” and imposes a disability on those people by “refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.

For Bill Dommel, that day, June 26, felt like Christmas.

“It’s just a wonderful, wonderful day,” Dommel, 70, of Gaithersburg said after justices struck down a law denying federal benefits to same-sex couples.

Dommel and his husband, Carlos Gonzalez, 45, have been together for nine years. They met in Florida and were married this year in Maryland.

But Gonzalez, who was born in Colombia, lived in the U.S. on a work-sponsored visa and didn’t become a legal permanent resident until 2010, meaning he wouldn’t have been eligible to apply for citizenship until 2015.

The court’s declaration that the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was unconstitutional changes that. Now that their marriage is recognized by the federal government, Gonzalez said he can seek citizenship immediately, and plans to do so in the coming weeks.

“It’s amazing,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

Dommel, a retired Navy veteran, said his husband is now eligible for veteran’s benefits in the event of Dommel’s death.

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland — an advocacy group that was one of the principal supporters of legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland — said June 26 was a great day for married couples.

“Until this morning, we were really just viewed as married in our own state,” Evans said, adding that same-sex couples were essentially considered strangers in the eyes of the federal government.

Now, they know their spouses are protected, Evans said.

A separate opinion, also seen as a victory for same-sex marriage, effectively killed Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative that made same-sex marriage illegal in that state.

“For all intents and purposes, marriage equality is back in California,” Evans said.

One of the principal opponents of same-sex marriage in Maryland said he was troubled by the Proposition 8 ruling.

The court effectively ruled that private citizens don’t have the right to defend a law in court, said the Rev. Derek McCoy, chairman of the Maryland Family Alliance. McCoy led the petition drive that placed Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the referendum ballot in November, but it was upheld by voters.

“The process of democracy was the one that I think was violated in the Proposition 8 case,” he said, adding that he expected other legal challenges to arise in that matter.

The DOMA decision — which did not address whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage — still allows the states to define marriage as between a man and a woman and both rulings would prompt a lot of further discussion on the issue, McCoy said.