Former Mid-City Baton Rouge resident Hope Herron and her domestic partner left Louisiana for the Washington, D.C., area nearly two years ago, in large part because of their desire for equal rights and to one day have a child.
“That was one of the largest considerations in our decision to leave,” Herron said. “I certainly didn’t feel overtly discriminated against or anything like that. It was really from a legal standpoint.”
Louisiana bans same-sex marriages and civil unions, while Washington, D.C., is the only place south of the Mason-Dixon Line in the U.S. where same-sex marriage is allowed.
Having lived most of her life in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, the former University of Southern Mississippi soccer player ultimately decided the “separate-but-equal” civil rights problems for gays and lesbians in the South didn’t work in their favor.
Just outside of Washington, in Virginia for instance, Herron would lose her hospital visitation rights to her partner even if they were legally married in the District of Columbia.
So, while there are no immediate legal ramifications, she celebrated the decision by President Barack Obama to come out in favor of same-sex marriage after years of “evolving” on the issue.
“It’s a historic moment and it certainly means a great deal to me,” Herron said. “To have that leadership to embrace our civil liberties is huge.”
Of course, it didn’t take long for the Republican-controlled U.S. House to start hitting back at Obama.
On a 245-171 vote Wednesday afternoon, the Republican-dominated U.S. House approved an amendment that would keep the U.S. Department of Justice from actively opposing the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The law defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The Obama administration stopped enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act last year.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., who is the only Democrat from Louisiana in the House, was the only member of the state’s delegation to vote against the amendment.
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said he believes “marriage is between one man and one woman,” although he said he has not developed a firm stance on same-sex civil unions.
“I think it’s interesting the president is talking about social issues and not the economy,” Cassidy said.
The original headline from Fox Nation to Obama’s announcement was, “Obama flip flops, declares war on marriage.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who’s been married four times, also decried Obama’s so-called war on marriage.
If nothing else, the flip-flop charge is accurate. When Obama was first running for Illinois’s state Senate, he was quoted supporting gay marriage. But, by 2004, his stance had changed to support only gay civil unions, but not marriages, under the religious argument that marriage is a sacred union between a man and woman.
However, he always maintained he was open to his opinion evolving on the topic.
The issue also is a political risk for Obama. After all, North Carolina, a state that Obama won in 2008, just passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage with a whopping 61 percent of the vote. Charlotte is also home to the Democratic National Convention this year.
So Obama’s decision is likely a big risk in several swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.
Gallup polling data released this past week shows that 50 percent of Americans say same-sex marriage should have the same legal validity as traditional marriage
As recently as 1996, only 27 percent of Americans supported gay marriage. Back then, Gallup asked about “marriages between homosexuals.” The wording is now “same-sex couples.”
Despite his reputation from flip-flopping on some issues, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney has always opposed gay marriage. He comes from the Mormon faith that once allowed a man to marry multiple women, just not another man.
On a state level, the battle is still waging in places like California.
Powerhouse lawyer Ted Olson, who won the famous Bush v. Gore case and later served as President George W. Bush’s solicitor general, is now legally fighting the Proposition 8 law that banned same-sex marriage in California.
“If you are a conservative, how could you be against a relationship in which people who love one another want to publicly state their vows ... and engage in a household in which they are committed to one another and become part of the community and accepted like other people?” Olson said to National Public Radio.
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email is email@example.com.