SAN FRANCISCO — Estranged from his family because he is gay, 27-year-old Eric Hoffman stood outside City Hall here and found hope for rapprochement in the most unlikely of places: the Supreme Court of the United States, a continent away.
“When I was at home in Dos Palos,” he said of the tiny central California town where he grew up, “I feared for my life every day. I came out because I was being blackmailed. Now I can go back proud of who I am. I think now my family can love me even more.”
With the release of two decisions that legitimized same-sex marriage, the court set off a day of powerful personal emotions. Opponents of gay marriage expressed deep disappointment. But for supporters, Wednesday was cemented as a milestone of gay civil rights progress — a rainbow-hued repeat of the night 41 / 2 years ago when Barack Obama made history for black Americans.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day,” Raul Fabela said outside the Supreme Court, echoing the words of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) on Nov. 5, 2008. “I have so many friends that have passed on, and I wish they’d lived for this moment,” he said, his voice breaking. “This is the America we know.”
On both coasts of that America, in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., elated gay couples and supporters embraced, wept, celebrated, chanted victory slogans and savored the moment. They waved rainbow flags in the humid air outside the court and took shelter from the sun under rainbow umbrellas as a few opponents of gay marriage trickled away.
In New York, Edie Windsor, the 83-year-old woman who brought the case against the Defense of Marriage Act, called for a party at the Stonewall Inn, the Greenwich Village bar where gays fought a police raid 44 years ago Thursday, sparking three days of riots and the drive for equal rights.
“It’s an exciting day for civil rights in America. I am a significant step closer to being an equal citizen under the law,” Mark Strohbehn, 28, of Iowa said outside the Supreme Court.
Critics of the rulings also spoke of hope. “We are deeply saddened by today’s decision to not only allow but encourage same-sex marriage in our country — a country that was founded on biblical principles,” said Tim Wildmon, president of the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association. “We mourn for America’s future, but we are not without hope.”
“Marriage is resilient,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “We’re the people who believe marriage was designed by God, embedded in nature, and it can’t be raptured away by the Supreme Court or a change in culture.”
Moore said he is telling people in his church that they should express their convictions without anger. “Our gay and lesbian neighbors are not our enemies,” he said. “We ought to treat everyone around us with dignity, and seek to persuade them why we see marriage as a one-flesh marriage between a man and woman, rather than vent outrage. And I think that’s where most people in the evangelical community are.”
In San Francisco, where Harvey Milk won a seat on the Board of Supervisors 35 years ago, David Campos (D), who is openly gay and holds the same office, called the decisions “a very emotional moment” for gays across the country.
“The reality is that this is the very first time that the highest court in the land is recognizing [the] equality of this LGBT community that we have here,” Campos said. He added that he hoped the community would focus next on achieving equal rights and recognition for transgender people.
“We are not leaving anyone behind,” he said. “This is only the beginning.”
In separate 5 to 4 decisions, the justices ruled that the federal government cannot deny tax and other benefits to same-sex couples who are married in states that have legalized such unions and refused to intervene in a case that invalidated Proposition 8, the California statute that outlawed same-sex marriage. The second decision cleared the way for same-sex marriage to resume in the most nation’s most-populous state.
The ruling came a day after the Supreme Court invalidated a crucial part of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that the Pentagon “intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses — regardless of sexual orientation — as soon as possible.” California Gov. Jerry Brown directed county clerks across the state to prepare to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as next month.
But Andrew Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage, the sponsor of Prop. 8, said the issue had not been decided. Both sides readied for a procedural battle to come.
“We want to emphasize that the court specifically chose not to reach the merits of Prop. 8,” Pugno said.
The Supreme Court ruled that Prop. 8’s sponsors did not have standing to appeal the 2010 decision by U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker that ended the state’s ban on gay marriage. It left supporters of Prop. 8 the chance to challenge Walker’s ruling.
“We will have a fight over whether the opinion by Judge Walker needs to be overturned,” said John Eastman, a professor at Chapman University and a Prop. 8 proponent, before the high court’s ruling on Wednesday.
But for supporters of the twin decisions, that was a concern for another day. Hoffman, who said he endured so much abuse in his small home town, saw only promise ahead.
“Seeing this day means that there is hope,” he said. “I think ultimately love conquers all. I think that this day is the turning point, that one pivotal moment where everything starts rushing down the hill. And you can’t stop it.”
Thomas reported from San Francisco and Kim and Bernstein reported from Washington. Carol Morello and Ruth Tam in Washington contributed to this report.