It was what counts as an outpouring of emotion in the formal atmosphere of the Supreme Court chambers: Rows of lawyers sniffing and dabbing at their eyes out of joy.
But the celebration was less restrained outside on the steps and all around the country as gay couples grasped what had just happened in those chambers. Same-sex marriage had stopped being its own thing and just became “marriage.”
“Oh my God, I am so excited,” said Amber Cameron, 29, a call- center worker who had to take a moment to compose herself outside her workplace in Hattiesburg, Miss., shortly after the ruling. In a couple of hours, she and her partner of five years, along with their two children, would be in line at the courthouse, ready to be among the first to marry in the state.
As it turns out, they would be the third same-sex couple to get a marriage license in Forrest County, Miss. But they would also be the last, for now. After the two exchanged vows on the courthouse steps, Mississippi closed the door to same-sex marriages for the day, underscoring for the gay rights movement that although it had achieved one of its biggest victories, the fight was not quite over.
Obstacles in Mississippi, Louisiana and at scattered courthouses elsewhere put a damper on what was overwhelmingly a positive and emotional day for gay rights advocates, who celebrated as marriages quickly began in the rest of the 14 states in which same-sex couples previously could not be married.
In Texas, sympathetic judges stood by to sign waivers so that couples could avoid the state’s 72-hour waiting period and marry right away. In Alabama, probate judges flung open doors that had been closed since the state’s Supreme Court ordered a halt to the issuance of same-sex marriage licences in March.
A steady stream of couples picked up their licenses at the courthouse in Columbus, Ohio, and then headed across the street to get married on the spot, among them Katie Ahern and Sonya Priest.
Ahern, a nurse in the labor and delivery department at Ohio State University’s hospital, had been in the room of a laboring patient when she received a text from Priest. It was a screen shot of a CNN headline: “Same-sex marriage is legal nationwide.” The tears would not stop flowing, she said.
After picking up their marriage license from the courthouse, they followed the cheers and rainbow flags to Dorrian Commons Park, where officiants stood at the ready to marry eager couples. Ahern is Catholic, but what the heck, she thought, as they recited their vows before a Unitarian minister.
Now, she said, “we’re going to dinner and drink together and just enjoy the day.”
More than 50 celebrations were planned for churches and community centers across the South on Friday evening, some coinciding with Pride celebrations. The jubilation spread beyond the states where couples were freshly able to marry. A rally was planned Friday night outside the Stonewall Inn, the site of a 1969 riot that many say launched the modern gay rights movement in the United States.
Mark Phariss, a plaintiff from Texas who was party to the case, described the emotions welling up inside as he contemplated the significance of this moment for himself and his longtime partner, Vic Holmes.
“My parents this past Monday would have celebrated . . . their 74th anniversary,” Phariss told reporters at a new conference in Austin as his voice broke with emotion. “Vic and I never dreamed that we would ever be able to celebrate any of those wedding anniversaries, and now we can, thanks to the Supreme Court.”
For many opponents of same-sex marriage, Friday was a day for mourning and reflection. While criticizing the court for overreaching, they said they are more focused on the long game, with plans to lobby for laws meant to protect religious schools, business owners, pastors and people of faith from being forced to condone same-sex marriage or participate in related activities.
Gay rights groups also pledged to keep fighting on their end — to ensure that marriage rights are fully realized and to shift their focus to expanding civil rights laws to bar employers and places of business from discriminating against gay and transgender people.
For some couples in Louisiana and Mississippi, Friday was bittersweet. Knol Aust and Duane Smith showed up at the courthouse in Jackson, Miss., within 15 minutes of learning of the court ruling. To their dismay, the clerk told them that their marriage would have to wait until a lower court confirmed that the marriages should go forward, per the state attorney general’s guidance.
While they waited, four heterosexual couples came in and within minutes got their licenses.
“It stung,” Aust said. “The Supreme Court said marriage is legal. We all know that. Everyone in the office knew that. And we were watching how easy the process was for heterosexual couples still, and we were waiting. It was kind of a blow.”
But the experience wasn’t all bad. One of the straight women getting married realized what was happening and, out of the blue, came over to embrace Aust, which he took as a sign of how dramatically things had improved for gays — despite this hiccup, and even in Mississippi.
“It was bittersweet,” he said.