Landmark Supreme Court Ruling Resonates With Local Advocates


The ruling, which legalizes same-sex marriage, comes a year after Pennsylvania legalized it.

“They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

With those words, Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority, put the exclamation point on a striking final paragraph of the United States Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

The high court’s 5-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges comes just a little more than a year after same-sex marriage was legalized in Pennsylvania.

“I feel fantastic,” said Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. “It’s a wonderful day for equality in the United States — for all of us.”

Last year, Landau and her partner — now wife — Kerry Smith were the first to obtain a marriage license after the ban in Pennsylvania was struck down. They were married by Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann of Kol Tzedek and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

“It’s great to know now that we can go anywhere we want in America and have our marriage recognized,” she said. “It paves the way — finally — for decisions of equality for the LGBT community.”

This opinion is one people will talk about for years to come, says Mark Aronchick, litigator and chair of the Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlick & Schiller firm. He was “immensely and profoundly moved” by the decision today.

Aronchick was a lead lawyer in the Whitewood v. Wolf case, which overturned the ban on same-sex marriage in Pa. in 2014, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and University of Pennsylvania law professor Seth Kreimer.

Aronchick said this decision is going to shift societal values for everyone, not just the LGBT community. He added that it serves as a profound lesson to the country of “what our democracy means.”

“First of all, it’s going to be one of the handful of landmark decisions in American constitutional history,” he said. “To be part of that process and see it happen in real time in my own life is amazing. This is one that people will talk about for generations to come and around the world.”

The decision is being celebrated by organizations of every stripe.

“Today the Supreme Court has said unequivocally what people of faith across the country have known for years: that there is no legitimate, secular reason to deny the right to marry to same-sex couples,” the Interfaith Alliance wrote in a statement. “…this [is] a victory for the love that is preached by the prophets and spiritual leaders of every faith tradition.”

Others are recognizing the opinion and showing their respect even if they don’t support it, such as the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center.

“Our religion is emphatic in defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman … At the same time, we note that Judaism teaches respect for others and we condemn discrimination against individuals,” the organization said in a statement in response to the ruling.

However, there is still work to be done. Landau said the next step to achieving equality for all is the creation of statewide nondiscrimination laws that protect people based on gender identity, sexual orientation and expression — something not currently in effect in Pa.

“While we celebrate this victory,” she said, “we’ve gotta wake up tomorrow and fight for nondiscrimination laws in Pennsylvania and all across the country.”

Philadelphia has been a “safe haven” for the LGBT community for too long, she said, explaining that the city embraces nondiscrimination but the state as a whole does not. She emphasized that it is still possible for LGBT citizens to have a “wedding photo on your desk and get fired” without repercussions for a discriminatory boss.

“That’s not what America is all about,” she said.

Nevertheless, she said, this is a momentous occasion and called it “one piece of the tikkun olam puzzle.”

Landau will be speaking at a rally tonight from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the lawn in front of the National Constitution Center.


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