BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | Hundreds turned out for a rally last Friday evening at the site of the 1969 Stonewall riots, which marked the start of the modern L.G.B.T. rights movement, to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
“If you’re not married and you hope to be so one day, you can go on a destination wedding to Alabama or anywhere you want,” said Susan Sommer, national director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, at the joyous get-together.
The court ruled on June 26 on lawsuits brought by “14 same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners are deceased” from four states that had same-sex marriage bans. Lambda represented four of the couples.
In a 5-to-4 decision, the court held that “same-sex couples may exercise the right to marry” and that “there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.”
The opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and he was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The composition of the court’s pro-marriage majority occasioned one of the rally’s funnier moments when Sharon Kleinbaum, the senior rabbi at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, told the crowd, “I’m going to say something totally off the record –– thank God for the Jews and women on the Supreme Court.”
The rally, which was produced by the New York chapter of Marriage Equality USA and sponsored by nearly 30 other groups, lasted for more 90 minutes. It was slated to start at 6 p.m., but people began to gather on Christopher St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. as early as 3 p.m., and police had already closed the street by then.
Speakers included nearly the entire L.G.B.T. caucus of the City Council, former and current members of the state Legislature, religious leaders, pro-marriage and political groups, and Congressmembers Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney. While many of the comments emphasized the elation of the moment, speakers frequently reminded the crowd that the movement’s work was unfinished.
“And today, finally, must be a day of rededication, rededication to eradicating discrimination,” Nadler said.
The marriage decision means that gay and lesbian couples can now wed in any state in the nation and that those marriages must be recognized across the nation. Yet it does not mean that those couples are protected from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations or in other areas. No federal law bars discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and the 22 states that do have such laws offer a patchwork of protections. Two members of Queer Nation, the activist group, were circulating through the crowd handing out fliers that made this point.
Former state Senator Tom Duane, who is openly gay, emphasized this when he described the discrimination and violence that some in the L.G.B.T. community continue to confront even with the gains of recent years. The task of the community was to end that violence and discrimination, he said.
“It is our job,” Duane said. “Now that we have this right, we have the responsibility to stop that violence.”
While the crowd closest to the stage, which sat roughly two blocks east of Seventh Ave., remained engaged throughout the rally, people standing closer to that avenue and in front of the Stonewall Inn began to look more like a party than a rally by 6:45 p.m. Champagne corks could be heard popping on Christopher St.