Both sides of gay marriage fight agree: today was historic

Proponents of gay marriage are hopeful and opponents wary after arguments on Proposition 8 at the Supreme Court Tuesday. But both acknowledge the import.

Jane Tyska/The Contra Costa Times/AP
Oaklanders watch as a rainbow flag is hoisted above City Hall in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday in support of the gay community as oral arguments are heard in the US Supreme Court regarding California's Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage.

As supporters and opponents of Proposition 8, the controversial California measure banning same-sex marriage, sifted through the arguments made before the Supreme Court Tuesday morning, they could agree on one thing: This is a watershed moment.

“I can’t believe we have come this far, frankly,” says Nowlin Haltom, a real estate agent in the Los Angeles suburb of Studio City. He married his partner of 15 years in New York two years ago and says he has been in this fight “for a long time.”

Meanwhile, Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, says the Supreme Court is considering toying with thousands of years of human history. “There is nothing in the history of the world culture that supports redefining marriage as an institution between a man and a man or a woman and a woman,” he says.

Possible outcomes from Tuesday’s arguments range from the case being dismissed all the way up to a broad ruling on whether or not there is a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry, says Rebecca Brown, a constitutional law professor at the University of Southern California's Gould School of law.

“They’ve heard all the arguments, now they will go away and sort through them,” she says. A decision is expected by early June.

Mr. Haltom is grateful for the progress that has been made on the issue, noting that when he first came out to his family, “my father would not speak to me for two years.” The fact that the law is being heard in the nation’s highest court is promising, but there is still much work left to do, says Haltom, a Vietnam veteran.

“I am certainly hopeful that the court will go all the way and make the biggest statement,” he says. But “something more narrow is probably likely.”

He worries about his own relationship. At the moment, his husband would not be allowed to collect Haltom's Social Security check when Haltom dies. Prior to his current marriage, he was married to a woman with whom he has a grown daughter. “My ex-wife is entitled to claim my benefit check,” he adds.

But Haltom says he is braced for any outcome and will continue his work regardless. There is much work left to do with the next generation of activists, he notes.

A Prop. 8 rally held at Los Angeles City Hall on Sunday drew no more than 350 supporters, he says. “In a city of this size, don’t you think we should have gotten a better showing than that?”

Mr. Wildmon suggests that a broad Supreme Court ruling in support of same-sex marriage would fly in the face of the clear majority opinion in America. Though polls now show that more than 50 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, he notes that 31 states have created legislation defining marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

Some indications from the court Tuesday suggest that it might be wary of making a broad ruling, says Paul Linton, special counsel at The Thomas More Society, a national anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage advocacy group in Chicago. For example, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the plaintiffs were asking the court to head into “uncharted waters.”

“I would be very concerned about the negative impact that [a broad] decision would have not just in California but across the entire nation,” Mr. Linton says.

He suggests that such a decision could lead to some states calling for a constitutional amendment, meaning Congress might have to convene a convention.

“It has never been used in our history” since the original Constitutional Convention of 1789, he notes. But if two-thirds of the states demanded it, he adds, it could happen.

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