Hundreds of gay rights advocates and their supporters strode through the streets of Downtown Madison Friday evening with a giant rainbow flag, taking a victory lap in the long battle for same-sex marriage.
Diners at sidewalk restaurants stood and cheered as the marchers chanted, “We don’t care what people say, marriage just got really gay.”
In a landmark ruling earlier in the day, the nation’s highest court said same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage. The 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision means all 50 states must perform and recognize gay marriage.
“The 14th Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state,” the court majority wrote.
The ruling retains the status quo in Wisconsin and 36 other states, where gay marriage already is legal.
Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito dissented.
Locally, people on both sides called the ruling monumental, with some likening its ramifications to that of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion. As with that decision, the ruling on gay marriage does not settle the public discussion, said Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, which has fought vigorously against gay marriage.
“It doesn’t shut down debate or change what I and millions of others in this country believe,” said Appling, who called the ruling “horrendous.”
But wide swaths of Madison, a politically liberal city with many gay residents and straight allies, cheered the ruling.
“We’re ecstatic, just so excited and relieved,” said Judi Trampf of Madison, one of the plaintiffs, with her partner Katy Heying, in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Wisconsin last year challenging the state’s ban on gay marriage.
Trampf, director of human resources and diversity at UW-Whitewater, and Heying, dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies on the same campus, promptly decided to take a vacation day when they heard the news Friday morning.
“We just can’t concentrate,” Trampf said. “We want to celebrate.”
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the first openly gay person elected to the Senate, called the decision a “huge victory for freedom, fairness and equality.” Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said it “brings finality and justice so that all men and women can marry the person they love.”
But Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a likely presidential candidate, called the ruling “a grave mistake.” Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino reiterated his view that marriage can only ever be between one man and one woman.
On the other side of the issue, Democratic state Sen. Mark Miller of Monona issued what might be the shortest press release in political history: “Finally.”
Patrick Farabaugh, 37, publisher of Our Lives, a Madison magazine for the LGBT community, said he was “flooded with emotion, seeing all the posts on Facebook from people I’m connected to and how meaningful this is to all of us.”
Still, he could envision varied reactions to the decision in Madison, even among those who strongly back gay marriage.
Older people who’ve spent their lives working on the issue likely will be profoundly moved, he said, while younger people who consider gay marriage a no-brainer may shrug.
Millennials — those born in 1981 or later — are the most supportive of gay marriage of any age group, with roughly three-fourths backing it.
Amanda Ransom, 14, who was in Madison Friday from Seattle visiting her grandmother Linda Ransom, 69, and her grandmother’s spouse, Rory Ward, 71, said she has closeted friends who are now planning to be open about their sexual orientations.
“They figured if marriage is legal and everyone is accepting of it, then they could come out,” she said.
The three were among those celebrating on the Capitol Square Friday evening. Ward, a retired Madison firefighter, said she had attended numerous pro-labor, anti-Walker rallies at the Capitol over the last four years.
“It’s nice to come to the Square and have a success for a change,” she said.
Same-sex marriage has been on-again, off-again in Wisconsin.
In 2006, state voters approved a ban on it. But in June of last year, after federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the ban unconstitutional, a majority of county clerks briefly started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Legal wrangling ensued, and the issuing of licenses was halted while the state appealed Crabb’s decision. The state lost its appeal, and on Oct. 6, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case. Gay marriage has been legal in the state ever since.
Thursday’s case was called Obergefell v. Hodges and originated out of Ohio. The Supreme Court consolidated it with similar cases from Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.
Some LGBT activists welcomed the decision primarily because they considered the fight for marriage equality a distraction that diverted time and money from more pressing issues, such as the high rates of suicide and homelessness among LGBT youth.
“Sure, people should be able to get married, but the amount of resources that have gone into the marriage equality fight is pretty staggering,” said Karma Chavez, an associate professor of communication arts at UW-Madison who identifies as queer. “In California in 2008, tens of millions of dollars were spent fighting a ban on same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, AIDS clinics in San Francisco were shutting down.”
She hopes those same donors will now support causes that more broadly benefit people on society’s margins, whether LGBT or not.
Despite Friday’s success, this is no time for LGBT advocates to take it easy, said Meghan Roed, a Madison attorney who assists same-sex couples in estate planning. She points to the period after Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 ruling that struck down school segregation.
“There were so many cases that challenged Brown v. Board of Education (after that),” Roed said. “So even though the Supreme Court has said yes to same-sex marriage, there could be a backlash.”
And while younger generations clearly support gay marriage, they will not be in power for a while, she said.
“Those who are in power now may be willing to litigate or enact discriminatory legislation for years to come,” she said.
Fair Wisconsin, which came into existence to push for gay marriage, now will turn its attention more fully to advocating for transgender legal protections and to implementing the myriad legal protections related to same-sex marriage, said Megin McDonell, interim executive director.
Appling, the leader of Wisconsin Family Action, said her group still has much to do, too.
The organization will continue to educate the public on the need to define marriage as between one man and one woman, she said, and it will work to beat back what she predicts will be a deluge of religious freedom assaults on churches and other religious groups related to gay marriage.