Ruling brings local response

SIDNEY — The U.S. Supreme Court handed down its much anticipated ruling concerning same-sex marriage Friday morning.

Same-sex couples won the right to marry nationwide as a divided Supreme Court handed a crowning victory to the gay rights movement.

“No longer may this liberty be denied,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The vote was narrow — 5-4 — but Kennedy’s majority opinion was clear and firm: The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry.

Local reaction to the news was guarded by judges and clergyman, happy by members of same-sex unions.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Sara Henman, of Sidney, who has been living with her partner, Tara Fahrnow for 17 years. “I think it’s amazing.”

Kevin Frazier-Jones, of Anna, was clearly surprised.

“I’ll be honest. I didn’t think I’d see it in my lifetime,” he said. “(Mark Frazier-Jones, his partner,) and I talked about getting married in another state, but if it wasn’t recognized in Ohio (we decided against it). Now, I’m thinking of whom to invite to a wedding.”

Kennedy’s reading of the ruling elicited tears in the courtroom, euphoria outside and the immediate issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in at least eight states. Judges here didn’t think they’d be performing any ceremonies today, but steps have been taken to facilitate the process.

“We changed our website already,” Shelby County Probate Judge William Zimmerman told the Sidney Daily News soon after the high court’s ruling. Applications for marriage licenses in Shelby County no longer mention “male” or “female.” “The winds were blowing in that direction. We thought we’d be ready rather than scramble at the last minute. We cannot restrict getting a marriage license and we have to recognize out-of-state marriages. So after the waiting period is over, we’re ready to go,” he said.

The ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration. But county clerks in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas began issuing licenses to same-sex couples within hours of the decision.

The cases before the court involved laws from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Those states have not allowed same-sex couples to marry within their borders, and they also have refused to recognize valid marriages from elsewhere.

According to Zimmerman, judges have a choice about whom they marry or whether they perform wedding ceremonies at all.

“My policy has been that I perform marriages for family and friends,” he said. Sidney Municipal Court Judge Duane Goettemoeller said his personal opinions don’t matter.

“I took an oath to follow the law. We always wait until we’ve reached a point where decisions must be made. They say cases are ‘ripe for decision.’ (This one’s) not quite ripe yet,” he said. “I don’t know what the statehouse will do. The statehouse has to make some decisions. Don’t jump the gun. That’s one thing I’ve learned.”

In praise of the decision, President Barack Obama called it “justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”

Four of the court’s justices weren’t cheering. The dissenters accused their colleagues of usurping power that belongs to the states and to voters, and short-circuiting a national debate about same-sex marriage.

“This court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in dissent. Roberts read a summary of his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in nearly 10 years as chief justice.

“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” Roberts said. “But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

Justice Antonin Scalia said he was not concerned so much about same-sex marriage as “this court’s threat to American democracy.” Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas also dissented.

The Rev. Dr. David Chivington, lead pastor of Sidney First United Methodist Church, said that the Methodist Church does not currently permit its clergy to perform same-sex marriages.

“In May, the General Conference will consider the decision,” he said. He thinks the Supreme Court will not force churches to do anything that goes against their creeds. He and his staff have always met with prospective couples in pre-wedding counseling sessions, but the conversation with same-sex couples could be difficult, he noted.

“It’s a tough combination of saying to someone, ‘Because we have a certain faith, we can’t accept what you’re doing as right, we can’t approve of what you’re doing, but we love you,’” he said.

The Rev. Phil Chilcote, minister of the First Christian Church, also talked about love.

“We live in a world so much in need of civility, respect, honor, dignity, and love. These same needs have never been so obvious in our own nation as they are now; whether applied to race relations, epidemic levels of the abuse of substances leading to addiction, disintegrating relationships between varied religious groups, increased dysfunction of the family, a marked increase in violence, polarization that is leading to an increased spirit of uncooperativeness, or finally, and important today, issues around sexual orientation,” he said.

“It just seems to me that planting the flowers of love, acceptance, tolerance, patience and kindness certainly promotes a better and healthier world than throwing rocks. I rejoice in the decision of the court because I believe it is the right decision. My prayer and hope is that we will come to understand that giving someone else equal rights does not take away our own; while withholding those rights points to the fact that some are treated as ‘lesser citizens,’ and that simply is not in keeping with our great nation; it is not right,” Chilcote said.

Several religious organizations criticized the decision.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it was “profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.”

The Most Rev. Dennis M. Schnurr, archbishop of Cincinnati, released a statement soon after the ruling was made public: “Under the false banner of ‘marriage equality,’ the United State Supreme Court today redefined marriage by judicial fiat. In so doing, it has disregarded not only the clearly expressed will of the electorate in Ohio and other states, but also an understanding of marriage that was shared by virtually all cultures — secular as well as religious — until recently,” it read in part.

Kennedy said nothing in the court’s ruling would force religions to condone, much less perform, weddings to which they object. And he said the couples seeking the right to marry should not have to wait for the political branches of government to act. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex couples to marry on the same basis as heterosexuals, he said.

The rights that marriage conveys are important to Frazier-Jones and Henman. The former noted that he and Mark have the same problems as heterosexual couples: paying a mortgage, raising a child, dealing with financial troubles.

“It would be nice to be recognized as a couple, to get the same privileges as married couples get — the legalities of making decisions for each other if we were in the hospital,” he said.

Henman said her partner recently suffered a family loss. Because she and Fahrnow weren’t legally married, Henman’s employer would not give her grievance time to travel with Fahrnow to South Carolina for the funeral.

“I’m looking forward to when I can say I am her wife, I’m not an underclassed person any more,” Henman said.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor formed the majority with Kennedy.