“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 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples on June 26.
The high court’s 5-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges came 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.”
The verdict is one people will talk about for years to come, said Mark Aronchick, litigator and chair of the Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlick & Schiller firm. He was “immensely and profoundly moved” by Friday’s decision.
Aronchick was a lead lawyer in the Whitewood v. Wolf case, which overturned the ban on same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania in 2014, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and University of Pennsylvania law professor Seth Kreimer.
Aronchick said this latest decision is going to shift societal values for everyone, not just the LGBT community. He added that it served 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.”
Many echoed the hope that this achievement will spread the love to other countries.
“It’s an historical day,” said Elad Strohmayer, deputy consul general of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region.
Earlier this year, Strohmayer and his now husband were married in Philadelphia in a wedding officiated by Nutter. The court’s decision represented the United States’ standing as a beacon for the values of freedom and liberty, he said.
He hopes that this decision will serve as an example to other countries, such as Israel, which recognizes gay marriage but does not sanction it within its borders.
“The slogan is ‘Love Wins,’ and that is what we saw today,” he said.
The decision was 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 recognized the opinion and showed their respect even if they didn’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.
There is still work to be done, said Landau. 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 here.
“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 added, 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 was a momentous occasion, calling it “one piece of the tikkun olam puzzle.”
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