After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, granting federal recognition of same-sex marriages, people flocked to the historic Stonewall Inn to celebrate
Valerie Renee, 31, and Kim Morgan, 29, had good reason to be giddily drinking beer at a bar in the middle of the day last Wednesday. After watching the coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on TV, the couple couldn’t contain their excitement and left their shared Hell’s Kitchen apartment to come down to the West Village. They, along with dozens of other happy revelers who were later joined by hundreds more, made a beeline for the Stonewall Inn, which has served as a gay haven and political bastion of the LGBT rights movement. Almost 44 years ago to the day, the Stonewall Inn had been the site of riots started by gay activists tired of discriminatory laws and police harassment; those riots, in 1969, captured the attention of other activists nationwide and sparked the decades-long fight for LGBT equality, a fight which crept a little closer to the finish line this week.
Renee and Morgan, who have been together for three years and hope to get married in the near future, said they were ecstatic at the news that their New York marriage would be recognized outside of their home state.
“I’m from Florida, so if we move to Florida but get married here, it doesn’t matter,” said Morgan.
Both said they’re in awe of the people who have been fighting for this type of victory for many years.
“It’s an honor for me because we’re just going into this fight,” said Renee. “There have been women and men who’ve been fighting for decades, who have lost partners [before they could see this happen]. It’s exciting for us, but it’s like we cheated.”
The woman who is ultimately responsible for the Supreme Court victory is a local named Edie Windsor, who also came to Stonewall later that night to celebrate the win. Windsor, 84, had sued to challenge a $363,000 federal estate tax bill after her partner for 44 years, Thea Clara Spyer, died in 2009. The government did not recognize their marriage, which had been performed in Canada, and so Windsor challenged the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts. The 5-4 decision Wednesday morning gave legally married same-sex couples the same federal recognition as any other married Americans.
Some gathered at Stonewall to protest what they say are discriminatory laws that criminalize people with HIV, chanting “Killing DOMA’s fine; HIV is not a crime.” Members of the advocacy group Queerocracy stood outside the bar in matching pink shirts, holding signs and “kissing in” to draw attention to those laws.
“Today, when the United States Supreme Court struck down DOMA, we are still living in a society where 34 states and 2 U.S. territories have laws and statutes that specifically criminalize people based on their HIV status,” said the group’s spokesperson Cassidy Gardner as dozens of media crews and onlookers snapped photos and recorded her. “We are kissing in to bring awareness to the injustice that lives and grows because these laws exist.”
But by later in the day, the mood was overwhelmingly celebratory. About a thousand people, including Edie Windsor, gathered outside Stonewall, waving gay pride flags, dancing and cheering.
“When generations from now people ask where you were today, you can say you were where it all started 44 years ago on a hot, summer day,” said Reverend Pat Bumgardner. “We’re here to celebrate everyone who crossed a line, broke a law or commandeered a space to make this possible.”
When Windsor walked onto the stage, she was greeted by cheers and thunderous applause.
“I am honored and humbled and overjoyed to be here,’’ she said, “to represent not only the thousands of Americans whose lives have been adversely affected by the Defense of Marriage Act but the thousands whose hopes and dreams have been constricted by it.’’
“Let me just say the federal government picked the wrong New Yorker to screw with when they sent Edie that tax bill,’’ quipped City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is openly gay, when she took the stage.
The speeches and celebrations continued long into the night, as the sounds of champagne bottles popping could be heard all over the neighborhood.
Additional reporting by Alissa Fleck & Jake Pearson
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