LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

ACLU-NJ Exec. Director: Same-Sex Marriage Decision ‘Momentous’

A much anticipated ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court — the landmark decision establishes same-sex marriage as a national civil right.

A divided court ruled that equal protections guaranteed under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment means states cannot ban it. For advocates of marriage equality, it’s a major victory. In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “By all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It has nothing to do with it.” And Justice Antonin Scalia called it a “threat to our Democracy.”

North Jersey Pride hosted a celebration in Maplewood. ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer was there and spoke about the ruling with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.

Ofer said people are joyous about the Supreme Court decision. He said supporters were feeling pretty confident that the court would rule as it did and same-sex marriage would be permitted in all 50 states, but that the fight has been long.

“The ACLU brought the first marriage equality case in 1971. We lost before the Supreme Court in 1972. So this has been over 40 years in the making and everyone is incredibly joyous,” he said.

While joy was the overriding sentiment with the ruling, Ofer also said there was a bit of sadness since today was also the funeral for Sen. Clementa Pinckney in Charleston, S.C. following a shooting where he said hatred prevailed over love. “So while we’re celebrating today’s marriage equality decision, we also know that the fight, not only for LGBT equality but for racial equality, is still a long one before us,” he said.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision, same-sex marriage was legal in 36 states, covering about 70 percent of the population. Ofer said beginning today, the 14 states that have not allowed same-sex couples to marry now must. “Last I checked, 12 of the 14 states have already started to officiate same-sex marriages. Two states are still holding out — Louisiana and Mississippi — but we believe it’s just a matter of hours not days for them to comply with the law,” he said.

Aside from the practical changes, Ofer said the decision is history making. “Today’s decision is going to go down in the history books at the same level as Loving v. Virginia which struck down a ban on interracial marriages and even Brown v. Board of Education. It’s a momentous decision that makes this nation more equal and more free,” he said.

The Supreme Court decision called marriage a fundamental right and President Obama called it a basic civil right. Ofer said the ruling is about more than just marriage. “While it did say that marriage was a fundamental right, it also said that it cannot be denied based on sexual orientation. And what that means is that LGBT Americans, LGBT residents, LGBT New Jerseyans now have the full protection of the law in the same way that all other residents have,” he said. “So today’s decision was about marriage equality, but more importantly it was a decision about human dignity, it was a decision about equality and it was a decision that said all people, regardless of sexual orientation must be treated equally under the law.”

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to comment on a similar case in 2013. While Ofer said the court didn’t rule on same-sex marriage, it did strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). “And the day that that happened — which was exactly two years ago on June 26, 2013 — we knew that marriage equality was just around the corner. And I don’t know if you remember but New Jersey actually became the first state after the DOMA decision to make marriage equality the law of the state and since then there’ve been about 50 court rulings in the last two years in favor of marriage equality,” he said. “So the Supreme Court wasn’t ready yet in 2013, but today it clearly was.”