By Alex Gecan for the Stamford Advocate
STAMFORD — Up until Friday, the legality of Joseph Belisle and David Vintinner’s marriage could be real one second and disappear the next if they happened to drive over certain state lines. The U.S. Supreme Court has washed away that uncertainty.
Five out of nine justices carried the day, ordering that all 50 states recognize same-sex marriages. Same-sex couples could already marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia.
“My husband and I are married here in Connecticut, and we have to travel every year we drive down south,” said Belisle. “Depending on what state we’re in, we don’t know whether we’re legal or not .… Personally, I’m thrilled that I can go anywhere this my country now, and Canada, and still be married.”
Belisle is an adviser to the Rainbow Cafe Stamford, a youth group for young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning people and their allies ages 13 through 21.
“Everybody’s thrilled, we couldn’t be more happy, certainly this is justice served,” said Belisle. “The kids are elated and a big group from Rainbow Cafe will be going into New York City to celebrate at the Pride March on Sunday.”
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Connecticut since 2008. Two years later, the congregation of Stamford’s oldest church, the First Congregational Church, voted to embrace same-sex marriages within their faith. Belisle and Vintinner were the first same-sex couple to marry at FCC, which is also the host organization to the Rainbow Cafe.
In a year, Richard Heimler and Chris Maroc will marry at Temple Beth El, where Rabbi Joshua Hammerman has stressed inclusiveness as a cornerstone of worship. Hammerman welcomed the ruling as “great news.”
The synagogue hosts a social group for those of all sexual orientations and gender expressions.
“I feel at times, because we live in a state that’s as understanding as Connecticut, we take certain things for granted,” said Heimler. “It’s historic that the Supreme Court will now have all these states now recognize same-sex marriage.”
Several states — including Connecticut — have so-called “religious freedom laws,” which protect religious practice from governmental interference. But some states have used those laws to allow groups or individuals to deny services or other privileges based on people’s gender or sexuality. But Connecticut also has strong anti-discrimination laws.
Within hours of the Supreme Court ruling, at least one state — Louisiana, where Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal recently announced he is running for president — announced that it would still not offer or recognize same-sex marriages.
By contrast, Gov. Dannel Malloy officiated same-sex marriages in the Stamford Government Center during his time as mayor. Malloy has also made a habit of baiting Jindal and other Republican governors into public spitting contests.
In April Malloy announced a prohibition on travel to Indiana for Connecticut employees after that state instituted its nominal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Malloy relented on the ban, but not before calling Indiana Gov. Mike Pence a “bigot” on MSNBC.
“I think there are still lawsuits ahead of us across the country, whether it comes from the head of government or the head of organizations,” said Heimler.
“Connecticut is definitely one of the more progressive states in the country when it comes to our non-discrimination laws,” said Anthony Crisci, who runs the Triangle Community Center, an advocacy organization in Norwalk. “It’ll probably play itself out in the next five to 10 years.”
The most important aspect of the Supreme Court ruling, said Crisci, was not just that made same-sex marriage legal, it also ordered that each state recognize licenses from other states.
“This ruling is a start, but really, the work that is left to be done is implementation, which is probably going to be a long, hard fight for our community and our country,” said Crisci. Still, he said, “It’s a huge win for the LGBTQ community today, and it’s a huge milestone or benchmark in our movement that has been going strong for over 40 years now.”
Not everybody in the state is celebrating the win for marriage equality.
“There’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution that required the Supreme Court to impose same-sex marriage on all 50 states, but even if the court had ruled the other way, it would not have altered same-sex marriage here in Connecticut,” said Peter Wolfgang, the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut.
The Institute, said Wolfgang, was more concerned with religious exemptions, which are still a part of state law.
“We support the traditional definition of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman, and that is because marriage is the thing that turns a man and a woman into a husband and a wife so they can become a mother and father to the child that they create,” said Wolfgang.’
The Institute also stands against abortion and divorce.
Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the prevailing opinion, extolling the work of the men and women who wished so dearly to marry that they fought for that right up to the highest court in the land.
“They ask for equal dignity in eyes of the law,” wrote Kennedy. “The Constitution grants them that right.”
Around the region, residents expressed relief and even surprise at the decision.
Greenwich’s first openly gay elected official, Selectman Drew Marzullo, hailed the court’s decision as historic, saying it will be regarded as a landmark ruling for personal liberty in general and for LBGT individuals in particular.
“After 25 years of legal challenges the high court said in no uncertain terms that who you love, who you want to spend your life with will no longer be looked at as something wrong,” said Marzullo.
“History will show that Justice Kennedy and his beautifully written majority opinion got it so right,” he continued. “And when you read the part about family and what this really means to our children, I can't help but smile and at the same time tear up. I also smile thinking about Justice Scalia having a complete meltdown at this point. It's a different type of smile though.”
Greenwich real-estate broker Michael Kovner, who tied the knot with his spouse, Jean Doyen de Montaillou, the very day same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. Yet he said he was still taken aback by the court ruling that made same-sex marriage the law of the land.
“I can’t believe it, God bless the Supreme Court,” he said Friday. “When I was a lad, it wasn’t even talked about, wasn’t even imagined.”
Elected officials who represent Connecticut and lower Fairfield County also praised the decision, including both U.S. Senators.Richard Blumenthal said, “This ruling reaffirms why we are the greatest, freest nation in the history of the world - because we respect every individual’s equal right to liberty, no matter where they live, who they are, or whom they love.”
His junior colleague Chris Murphy said, “I’m thrilled that the justices ruled in favor of common sense and equality, and I stand with them in my unwavering support for the LGBT community.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, who represents the Fourth Congressional District said, “The fight for equality and against discrimination is never over, but today’s decision is a huge victory.”
Staff reporter Rob Marchant and contributed to this report, in addition to Tatiana Cirisano in Washington D.C.