In the midst of celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage rulings last week, Jen Jones called her fiancee Laura Meadows and popped the question a second time.
Jones, communications director at Equality N.C. and a Carrboro resident, told Meadows she wanted to legally tie the knot next month — not in a year, as they had originally planned. Meadows agreed.
The court’s invalidation of a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act is expected to give many federal benefits of marriage, including Social Security and inheritance rights, to married same-sex couples.
But Jones said questions surround the status of her upcoming marriage — and the marriages of all gay couples living in the 35 states, including North Carolina, that ban same-sex marriage.
Attorneys and legal experts are grappling with the federal definition of marriage and whether it should recognize a couple’s state of residence or the state where the marriage took place.
“There is a myriad of confusion across the nation about the implications of DOMA,” Jones said.
Since the court decision, President Barack Obama has directed his administration to press for federal recognition of all legally married couples, regardless of where they live.
“When you’re married, you’re married,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the national Freedom to Marry Coalition.
“It doesn’t sputter in and out like cell phone service, depending on what state you’re in.”
Holning Lau, president of North Carolina’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a UNC law professor, said Obama’s move represents progress for gay couples seeking benefits.
But he said it does not mark the end of the debate.
“Not everything can be cured by an agency change,” he said. “There are going to be some areas of law where Congress will have to get involved.”
Neither the Defense of Marriage Act ruling nor the striking down of California’s Proposition 8 has a direct impact on N.C. Amendment One, the state’s gay marriage ban — but Lau said gay rights supporters should be encouraged by Justice Anthony Kennedy’s rhetoric in the former case’s majority opinion.
“There’s a lot of language in the opinion about the dignity and integrity of gay people and gay relationships that bolsters the case for future lawsuits about marriage equality.”
Future legal action is a cause for concern among traditional marriage advocates, said John Rustin, president of the N.C. Family Policy Council.
“(The rulings) will likely establish the perception that the Supreme Court would be friendly to additional challenges to traditional marriage,” he said.
Still, Rustin said gay marriage opponents will continue to promote their message and strengthen support for one-man, one-woman unions.
He said he was pleased the court did not redefine marriage altogether.
Several Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives — including three from North Carolina — introduced a bill last week that would enshrine a gay marriage ban in the U.S. Constitution.
But the momentum propelling gay marriage forward is enough to overcome opposition, Wolfson said.
With same-sex marriage reinstated in California after Proposition 8’s end, about a third of Americans now live in a state where the union is legal.
Since last October, when the court began its 2012-13 term, six more states have legalized gay marriage — bringing the total to 13, plus Washington, D.C.
Wolfson said his group will shift its efforts to Illinois, Hawaii and New Jersey as part of a “Roadmap to Victory.”
Even as Jones looks forward to her marital celebration in Washington, D.C. in a few weeks, she said she cannot easily forget the long road ahead to end LGBT discrimination at the altar, in the workplace and in the home.
“There’s so much conflict of law right now,” she said.
“DOMA opens up a kind of Pandora’s box.”
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