WASHINGTON — Baton Rouge resident Ashley Herad celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court rulings to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act but she also struggled to keep her emotions in check.
“It made me cry,” Herad said, pausing to again fight back tears. “It made me cry, not because justice was served, but because of all the injustice that remains to be served and it’s just another step in getting there.”
Herad and many other gay Louisiana residents celebrated the narrow Supreme Court decisions, but that elation also was measured somewhat by the fact Louisiana constitutionally bans same-sex marriage. Gay marriage opponents claimed a partial victory because the rulings were tailored to maintain, for now, the bans that exist in 37 states.
Baton Rouge resident Joe Traigle, who is an activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, said Wednesday’s rulings were great news. But he questioned how it will impact Louisiana.
“Our Deep South intolerant attitudes lend toward us being at the bottom of the list, and we’ll probably be last in terms of catching up to equality,” Traigle said.
Traigle criticized those who say gay marriage impacts their so-called traditional marriages. He said if his 20-year relationship with his partner impacts anyone, “Then your marriage has some other issues going on.” The Bible taught him to treat everyone equally, he said.
“This is not a religious issue; this is a human rights issue,” Traigle said.
But many religious leaders and politicians do not see things Traigle’s way.
Catholic Bishop Michael Jarrell, of the Diocese of Lafayette, said he was “disappointed” in the rulings, arguing that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
“The institution of marriage must be strengthened, not redefined,” Jarrell stated. “It is my belief that every child has a right to a mother and a father united in marriage. A child should not be deliberately deprived of a married mom and dad.”
But the Rev. Keith Mozingo, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Baton Rouge, said Wednesday was a thrilling day. His church has performed same-sex unions and blessings for almost 30 years. He hosted a celebration for the gay community Wednesday night at the church.
“We have been saying all day that we are just giddy,” Mozingo said.
He said the high court’s decision now puts “some teeth” into the argument for the LGBT community’s fight in Louisiana to be treated equally.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, offered his strongest comments supporting marriage equality yet by praising the Supreme Court rulings and arguing that people should be allowed to marry anyone they want.
Richmond said he believes the issue should be decided on the federal level to prevent states from discriminating against the gay community. “It’s analogous with civil rights now,” he said.
Richmond has been noted as one of a handful of Democratic House members who had not yet formally endorsed gay marriage. He clarified his stance Wednesday.
“I don’t feel I have to come out and say I’m pro-gay marriage. I’m against discrimination,” he said. “People should marry whoever they want to marry.
“I don’t go out promoting it; I don’t go out bashing it,” Richmond continued. “I think people should love whoever they want to love and have the rights and benefits that go with it.”
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is sticking with respecting the will of the states on the issue, although she has called it unfortunate that Louisiana banned same-sex marriage constitutionally.
“The court upheld that states have the right to define marriage and that’s what many people thought they would do,” Landrieu said Wednesday. “It’s not unexpected.”
The Republicans were much more critical of the Supreme Court, although they maintained optimism about states’ rights.
“The ruling today is a very tough pill to swallow for me and millions of Louisianians who supported the Defense of Marriage Act,” U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said in a prepared statement. “But it doesn’t overturn Louisiana law, or that of … other states, which have correctly chosen to protect traditional marriage as being between one man and one woman.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, criticized the ruling not only because he supports “traditional marriage” but also because of the fiscal impacts. “When the Supreme Court mandates eligibility for federal benefits for same-sex couples married in states which recognize such marriages it allows state law to dictate federal expenditures,” Cassidy added.
Gov. Bobby Jindal said every child deserves a mother and a father.
“This opinion leaves the matter of marriage to the states where people can decide,” Jindal said in a prepared statement. “In Louisiana, we will opt for traditional marriage.”
A new CityStats survey earlier this month showed that, for the first time in the three years the question has been asked, more people in East Baton Rouge Parish favor legalizing same-sex marriage than oppose it. According to the survey, 47 percent of the respondents were for legalizing same-sex marriage while 45 percent were opposed.
Earlier this year, a Public Policy Polling survey found that 54 percent of its respondents in Louisiana support either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples.
Matthew Patterson, of the Capital City Alliance in Baton Rouge, said he is optimistic moving forward and that Wednesday provided the best news from the Supreme Court that was realistically possible.
“I’m not afraid of work and a challenge. It’s going to happen (in Louisiana),” Patterson said of marriage equality.
The questions that remain now from the ruling are whether Louisiana residents can get married in other states and receive federal government marriage benefits while living in the state, Patterson said. That would mean filing joint federal tax returns, but single state tax returns.
“It’s still going to lead to headaches, but those are a lot better than yesterday’s headaches,” Patterson said.
Steven Ward and Michelle Millhollon of The Advocate contributed to this report