Chris Sidell didn’t follow the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage Wednesday morning. But it wasn’t long before the South Lake Tahoe resident found out what a big impact that decision would have on his life.
“My partner woke me up and said ‘guess what happened?’” Sidell said. “He said the Supreme Court said we can get married. At that second, he asked me to marry him. And that was that.”
The Supreme Court effectively paved the way for gay marriages by refusing to rule on an August 2010 decision by San Francisco’s then-Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker. Walker ruled that California’s Proposition 8 was discriminatory and he barred state officials from enforcing the ban on gay marriage.
The justices also ruled that married same-sex couples are entitled to the same federal benefits as opposite-sex couples, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA. But the ruling did not address the constitutionality of gay marriage.
“They did not hold that people have a constitutional right to gay marriage across the United States,” said Rick Meyer, a South Lake Tahoe attorney who teaches political science at Lake Tahoe Community College. “What they said was that issues of marriage have traditionally been within the realm of state government.”
Essentially, the two decisions by the Supreme Court only affect states where gay marriage is already legal, Meyer said. But language within the majority opinion hinted at how future decisions would be made, he added.
“It says very many wonderful things about the people of New York for recognizing the equality of marriage,” Meyer said. “Even though it wasn’t critical to the decision, it kind of laid the groundwork for the future.”
Sidell and his partner, Ellwood Ellis, weren’t the only ones celebrating the decision Wednesday.
“I would be lying if I said a lot of us didn’t come on campus a little late because we could not tear ourselves away from the television set,” said Lisa Schafer, a Lake Tahoe Community College employee and advisor to the college’s LGBT student group Friends of ALLY. “There were high fives, rainbow flags and a lot of updating of Facebook pages.”
A lot of South Shore students will be impacted by the decision, Schafer said.
“Something like this is validation for those young people, who are so full of hope and so full of promise, she said. “These people are the best of the best. They are folks you want to encourage.”
Live Violence Free will also be affected by the decision, said Diana Meza Cabrera, outreach coordinator for the organization. The decision will clear up a lot of the gray area that existed between gay and lesbian couples.
“It helps us a great deal because we’ll be able to establish custody,” Meza Cabrera said. “It clears out a lot of those blurry lines.”
One of those blurry lines was the common hospital policy that only spouses and direct family members are allowed to visit those in urgent care. Sidell dealt with that a couple years ago when he was injured.
“It was just weird. He wasn’t able to come into the room with me,” Sidell said. “They wouldn’t tell him what was going on with me.”
The ruling will take effect in 25 days, meaning the earliest marriage licenses in California could be issued would be mid-July. Hours after the ruling, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered clerks in California’s counties not to issue the licenses before the ruling takes effect.
“After years of struggle, the U.S. Supreme Court today has made same-sex marriage a reality in California,” Brown said.
Sidell and Ellis plan on getting married at South Lake Tahoe’s Regan Beach in the summer of next year. The ceremony means a lot to the couple of 10 years.
“It cements it,” Sidell said. “Marriage is recognized by everybody. People understand that that is a true commitment for life. And that is what we want.”