SALISBURY — As Bob Lambrecht waited for the first of two Supreme Court decisions to come down Wednesday morning, his downtown store, Critters Gifts, got busy.
Lambrecht said he’d forgotten about the 10 a.m. announcement until his company phone began ringing.
Then he did something he never does, Lambrecht said. Standing beside a salesman inside his South Main Street shop, Lambrecht openly celebrated the two victories for gay rights advocates.
“I don’t remember what I said,” Lambrecht recalled. “I just blurted out something about, ya know, my marriage is finally considered legal, unfortunately not in the state of North Carolina.”
Still, the high court’s 5-4 ruling that a federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples is unconstitutional left Lambrecht with hope for the future.
“That day will come,” he said. “It has to.”
The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was one of two rulings issued Wednesday.
The second didn’t mention same-sex marriage, but deferred to a trial court’s decision that Proposition 8 in California is unconstitutional.
California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered that marriage licenses be issued to gay couples as soon as a federal appeals court lifts its hold on a lower court ruling, according to the Associated Press.
Dr. Michael Bitzer, Catawba College politics professor and acting provost, said the DOMA ruling opens the door for future legal battles at the state level.
States like North Carolina that do not allow same-sex marriage will now be challenged to recognize the marriage licenses issued in states that do allow those unions.
“I think in the very near future that’s going to be the next big battle,” Bitzer said.
In the meantime, he said, the ruling allows couples like Lambrecht and husband Jon Planovsky to reap the federal benefits marriage, such as taxes.
“The federal government now has to go back and start the review process of everything that was given to traditional marriages — all those aspects have to be, maybe changed, maybe converted, but applied to same-sex couples,” Bitzer said.
North Carolina’s Amendment One, which passed last spring, could be a test case for challenging the rest of DOMA.
“What we’re talking about there is how do the states apply equal protection of the law to their own citizens through the 14th Amendment. My guess is there are some ambitious attorneys preparing lawsuits for the next phase,” Bitzer said, adding, “DOMA is not dead, but it’s probably on life support.”
The complicated decision didn’t stop local gay rights supporters from celebrating Wednesday.
Salisbury-Rowan PFLAG President Mike Clawson said the rulings were “what we’ve always known to be true.”
The Supreme Court rulings “were a huge step forward towards justice and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples and their families, friends and allies in California and across the country,” Clawson wrote in an email. “The Supreme Court’s dual rulings affirm what we at PFLAG have always known to be true: that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are fundamental rights for all Americans, and that denial of those rights seriously harms LGBT people and their families.”
But, Clawson added, same-sex marriage supporters will have to continue fighting in North Carolina.
“Together, we will continue to affirm the message that, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, love is love, family is family and marriage is marriage,” he said. “However, while we will celebrate today with our friends in California, and in states where fairness and justice already prevail, until there is marriage equality in all fifty states, there is much work still to be done.”
Rowan County Democratic Chairwoman Veleria Levy said she was excited about the ruling to a point, but continues to question Republican leadership in the state legislature.
In an email, Levy said she does not expect North Carolina to have marriage equality in the near future.
“As a supporter and ally of the marriage equality movement, I am so very happy for my friends and perspective partners. I am happy for the children of same-sex couples that have a ‘validation of sorts’ by their marriages recognized as legitimate or the kids that are growing up feeling bullied and different,” Levy wrote.
“This says to them that soon, they will grow up in a country with true equal treatment. I am sure that is what same-sex couples want just to be able to be accepted for the fact that you love who you love.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.
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