Local activists celebrate as Supreme Court declares gay marriage legal

06/26/2015 12:23 PM |

Rainbow flag gay marriage

North Fork gay rights advocates are hailing a historic Supreme Court ruling Friday that established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage nationwide.

“Today is a monumental victory,” said David Kilmnick, CEO of Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Services Network. “It’s a monumental day in the history of the United States. The Supreme Court ruled that we’re protected under the Constitution. It doesn’t really get any bigger than this.”

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the split 5-4 vote.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” he said.

Others for legalizing same-sex marriage were Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito voted against the decision.

This decision comes nearly four years after the New York State Legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage, which took effect on July 24, 2011.

“I’m 54 and never in my lifetime did I think I would see this,” said Greenport resident Lori Cohen, president of the North Fork Women for Women Fund. “It legitimizes our relationships … legally socially in every single way.”

Ms. Cohen said she didn’t really feel strongly about the gay marriage issue until she chose to marry her partner last year.

“Standing in front of your friends and family making those vows… it is important,” she said. “It’s recognition. It’s the same thing for us.”

Mr. Kilmnick, who said he was glued to the TV this morning awaiting the decision, explained that although same-sex marriage has been legal in this state for some time, the decision to legalize it nationally still impacts New York residents.

“We heard from people that were married here in New York and they tell us, ‘My company gave us a job offer in the Midwest somewhere, but they don’t have marriage there, so I don’t think I can go because I’ll lose all the rights that I have,’ ” he said.

Ms. Cohen said the decision will help improve the lives of same-sex couples living in other states.

“Living in New York, it’s sort of different for us. It’s a progressive state,” she said. “But there are people in this country that can’t even hold their partners hand in the supermarket or going to the movies without being harassed.”

Public opinion on gay marriage shifting rapidly as more states legalized gay marriage over the past several years. Ms. Cohen believes that has to do with more gay people coming out to friends and family.

“When people see you and talk to you and realize you’re just like them, you change their opinion,” she said.

Michael Murphy, the director of communications at Empire State Pride Agenda, a state advocacy group, said Friday was “an emotional day for everyone.”

“New York is proud of the role we played,” Mr. Murphy said. “In 2011, we made marriage equality a reality here and took one New York sized step closer [to Friday’s decision].”

Celebrations are being held across the North Fork after the Supreme Court’s announcement. Mr. Kilmnick is hosting the 15th annual LGBT Youth Prom at the Courtyard Marmot in Ronkonkoma on Friday.

Ms. Cohen is also hosting a pre-planned gay pride event through her organization at 455 Inlet Lane in Greenport Saturday at 5 p.m. Tickets are $35 at the door, she said.

While all three agree that this morning’s decision is a step in the right direction for the LGBT community, they realize there is still work to be done.

“I want to emphasize that the fight didn’t begin with marriage and it doesn’t end here,” Mr. Murphy said.

Other issues included gaining more rights for the transgender community, ending workplace discrimination based off gender identity and stopping bullying of LGBT youth.

“While this is a big victory today, people are afraid to come out in different situations,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

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