Kat Sharpe of Richmond and Bronwyn Hughes of Washington, D.C., first married in Massachusetts in 2008. And then they went to Canada and married. Then to Maryland and the District of Columbia. Then to Connecticut and Washington state and Pennsylvania. All this over the course of six years until, finally, Virginia legalized same-sex marriage, and last October, they married in Mathews County, where they now live.
So, when their daughter, Allison, told them this morning that the Supreme Court had affirmed the constitutional right to same-sex marriage, they reacted first with disbelief and then, Allison reports, “started jumping up and down.”
And somewhere between shock and joy, it struck Sharpe that something so monumental also could feel so fragile.
“The difference between euphoria and despair is what one person decided on the Supreme Court,” she says.
The Court ruled 5-4 today that marriage is a fundamental right for all Americans, legalizing same-sex unions in all 50 states. Before today, same-sex unions were legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Seventy percent of the nation’s population lived in a place where same-sex marriage was legal.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who sided with the majority, wrote the opinion. In the final paragraph, he concluded:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."
The ruling reversed the judgment of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“You are catching us when we are reeling with euphoria,” Hughes says from Southwest Virginia, where the couple is on vacation. “In a little while, I’ll probably be crying.”
Sharpe, 53, and Hughes 50, married in six states, the District of Columbia and Canada as something of a personal crusade to affirm their right to marriage and “to celebrate each state on the way to this day,” Sharpe says.
“We consider Virginia our most important marriage because actual legal benefits were conferred,” Hughes says.
(Midlothian residents Carol Schall and Mary Townley were part of the lawsuit that challenged Virginia's same-sex marriage ban. Read more about them here.)
Virginia Democratic political leadership and local advocacy groups lauded today’s decision.
“Finally, the law of the land reflects the beliefs and values held by the American people,” read a statement from the advocacy group, Equality Virginia. “. . . With this decision we no longer have two Americas when it comes to relationship recognition.”
Attorney General Mark Herring, who last year joined a lawsuit seeking to have Virginia’s gay marriage ban declared unconstitutional, called the ruling “an extraordinary moment in our nation's recognition that Americans cannot and will not be denied dignity, rights and responsibilities, including those of marriage, simply because of who they love.”
Salem Acuña of Southerners on New Ground, an LGBTQ organization working on issues of racial and economic justice in the South, lauded “the power and labor of LGBTQ elders that led to this victory. It took thousands of people and decades to build the political power to make this moment possible.” It is equally important, he says, to understand that as long as LGBTQ people are being persecuted for who they are, then much work remains “beyond this political moment of marriage.”
The decision drew immediate condemnation, as well. Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, says in a statement that, “marriage expresses the reality that men and women bring distinct irreplaceable gifts to family life, especially to children who deserve both a mom and a dad.”
Hughes and Sharpe adopted Allison, 13, when she was a baby, and Allison says the right to marriage is something her parents "have been talking about my whole life and it’s important, but it doesn’t change how we are as a family.”
So, she asks her moms, no more traveling around the country getting married? No, they reply.
“That’s OK,” she says. “I think I’ve had my fill of weddings.”