by: WSBTV.com web staff Updated:
ATLANTA - Members of the gay rights community are claiming two major victories Wednesday.
The Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, saying it violates gays’ equal protection under the law. The vote was 5-4.
The court ruled that legally married same-sex couples should get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples, but what it means to Georgia's Constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage remains to be seen.
Outside the court, supporters of gay rights erupted in celebration.
Edie Windsor, 83, brought the act, known as DOMA, to the Supreme Court. She spent 44 years with her partner. They married in 2007, but when Windsor’s partner died, she was slammed with a $360,000 federal estate tax bill. That’s money she would not have had to pay if she'd been married to a man.
A statement from the White House applauded the Supreme Court’s decision saying, “The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better for it.”
The statements were echoed in a tweet from President Barack Obama’s account.
In a separate decision concerning California’s Proposition 8 -- which banned gay marriage in the state -- the justices cleared the way for same sex marriage by refusing to rule on the substance of the case.
The court simply said the defenders of the law had no standing to bring the case before the court.
Reaction has been pouring in from across metro Atlanta over the ruling.
Georgia Democrats told Channel 2's Lori Geary it's a bittersweet day because the Supreme Court ruling did not nullify Georgia's ban on same-sex marriage.
In 2004, Georgia voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Several Republicans Geary talked to said that's because it's an issue that should be decided by the states.
Geary tried to talk to Gov. Nathan Deal about the high court's decision but his handlers got him quickly out the door at an Athens event.
"As soon as I have a chance to review it, I'll talk to you in more details," Deal told Geary before being whisked away.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle told Geary he doesn't think the decision will have a huge impact in Georgia.
"It does seem early on states' rights have been protected and I think that's important going forward," Cagle said.
Georgia's Attorney General Sam Olens was more emphatic releasing a statement saying, "I disagree with the court's decision. Today's decision rests on the basic assumption
-- with which I strongly agree -- that the power to define marriage is a power traditionally reserved to the states. The definition of marriage adopted by Georgia's voters is unaffected by today's decision."
The Democratic party of Georgia applauded the Supreme Court's decisions.
State Rep. Calvin Smyre said he's not sure how this will play out in a state that passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage back in 2004 with 76 percent of the vote.
Geary also spoke to state Rep. Karla Drenner from DeKalb County.
As the first openly gay Georgia legislator, in many ways she was front and center of the 2004 fight over gay marriage.
She told Geary she thinks there will be an ugly fight ahead in Georgia after the Supreme Court decisions.
"My greatest hope has been that people would just treat me the same way they treat other people, that is with equality under the law," Drenner told Geary.
Drenner said she'shopeful, even though Wednesday's rulings won't nullify Georgia's constitutional amendment that defines marriage between a man and a woman.
"That doesn't mean in the future there won't be 37 different lawsuits filed to overturn those constitutional amendments.
But Drenner said she's also realistic and predicts the high court decisions will lead to another tough fight under the Gold Dome led by Republicans.
"I think it's going to get ugly," Drenner said.
The Republican party of Georgia is gearing up for a fight.
Its new chairman released a statement saying, "The Georgia Republican Party will not back down in our efforts to promote, protect and preserve traditional marriage. Marriage is a sacred institution created by God, not by the federal government and we wholeheartedly believe that it is worth fighting for."
"I hope we talk about it in a civil way. Those that believe on the other side of this particular issue feel like we have a lot to lose. I would offer to them that giving my family rights doesn't take away rights from your family," Drenner said.
Drenner told Geary she has already heard from a constituent who wants to be a plaintiff in any potential lawsuits challenging Georgia's constitutional amendment.
Meanwhile, dozens of people gathered in midtown Atlanta Wednesday evening to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling.
Most of the people Channel 2's Liz Artz spoke to were optimistic over the ruling and while they're not expecting changes right away, they're expecting this to lay the ground work for the next generation.
Gary Fuller, 25, said coming out his senior year in college was the scariest thing he's done.
"I didn't think I was going to be able to have a normal family and that's what I wanted very deeply. So this is a huge day. It's just going to be baby steps," Fuller told Artz.
A baby step, he said, to have the right all other Americans enjoy. One day he wants to be able to legally get married, have a family, and share health benefits and file taxes jointly.
"We should have the same rights. We should have the same benefits," Ric Brewer told Artz.
Fuller believes the federal Defense of Marriage Act being struck down Wednesday will lay the
groundwork even in states like Georgia where same-sex marriage is still banned.
"We're moving in the right direction. Great day for our community," Fuller said.
Mike Cianciolo and Jay Stephens consider themselves a married couple. They had a ceremony 13 years ago and are in the process of adoption. But they have separate medical benefits and file taxes separately.
"They don't mind taking my gay tax dollars. We're living in a country, our own country, as secondary citizens and we don't have the same rights," Cianciolo said.
While Wednesday's rulings won't affect Georgians right now, they hope it will for their child.
Not everyone saw Wednesday's decision as a victory. Channel 2's Wendy Corona talked to a group that called the Supreme Court's decision as the tail wagging the dog and judicial activism.
They all agree it's reason enough to keep the discussion alive and want to discuss the weight placed on the word
"I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman," Portia Rhodes told Corona.
And for the 38 states, including Georgia that do not recognize same sex marriage, that's how the word
"marriage will continue to be defined.
The 5-4 Supreme Court decision was a close vote that signals to Jerry Luquire of the Georgia Christian Coalition something important.
"That in itself tells me we have a sharply divided country," Luquire said.
Luquire calls same-sex marriage, together unions, refusing to use the word marriage in that context.
"When you overrule the wishes and votes of millions of people as they have for California, I think that's just plain wrong in our democracy," Luquire said.
"While a big disappointment, we think that they got it wrong," said Gary Marx, Executive Director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
Marx, with the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said the opportunity for discussion and debate remains alive.
"The Supreme Court did not make a one size fits all Roe v. Wade style decision that imposed a new definition of marriage upon the entire nation," Marx said.
And now the law of the land has become the talk of the town
"Holy matrimony is between a man and a woman. It was never meant to be between a man and a man or a woman and a woman," Ron Wilson told Corona.
"I would love for her to know what's right and what's wrong and I believe that gay marriage is wrong," Rhodes said, talking about her daughter.
Corona also got reaction from the leadership of many
religious faiths across the Atlanta metro.
"Today's decision is part of a public debate of great consequence. The future of marriage and the well-being of our society hang in the balance," said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of the Atlanta Catholic Diocese in statement about the decision. "No one, especially a
child, is served by marriage redefinition."
Channel 2's Diana Davis talked a metro Atlanta pastor who lost much of his congregation when he announced he was gay.
The pastor raised a family and was married to a woman for more than 20 years.
He told Davis he is optimistic about the future of gay marriage.
"I know a lot of straight people think it's a choice. It's not," said the Rockdale County pastor, the Rev. Jim Swilley.
Swilley came out to his congregation more than two years ago.
The father of four was once married to a woman for more than 20 years. He told Davis he went public after a rash of gay teen suicides.
Though Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling does not change Georgia's ban on gay marriage or legalize it in most other states, Swilley believes the ruling is an important step.
"What they are basically saying is this should be left up to the states, which is good if you live in a state like one of the 12 states that have already legalized same-sex marriage.'
Swilley has been in a relationship with the same man for more than a year. He told Davis they have discussed marriage.
"I want to build a life with somebody," Swilley said. "Yes, definitely I will get married again. I am the marrying type."
He said 2,000 members of his once 3,000-member congregation left his church after his announcement. Swilley still preaches and said he has officiated at same-sex marriage ceremonies even though they have no legal standing in Georgia.
"I have couples in my church who have been together seven, eight, 10 years. One couple, two men, that have been together 40 years. They have never dated anyone else," Swilley said.
Swilley told Davis that moves toward legalizing gay marriage don't undermine heterosexual marriage.
"I think divorce is a much bigger statement against marriage than same-sex partnership," Swilley said.
He said same-sex couples who want to be married are after the same things straight people are.
"This has been the reality of people's lives for a long time and they just want the same benefits or the same treatment that everybody else has. That straight people just completely take for granted.