On the steps of the Arlington County courthouse in Virginia the day the court’s decision was announced, the Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles, a minister at the UU Church of Arlington, performed a wedding as dozens of journalists covered the historic event. Photos of the wedding appeared on the front page of the Washington Post and in dozens of other newspapers across the country.
Also that day, the Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig, associate minister of the UU Congregation of Fairfax, performed the first same-sex wedding in Fairfax County, Va., in the atrium of the county courthouse. Horton-Ludwig and other supporters of marriage equality had rushed to the courthouse when the news was announced. The couple, who had been together for over 20 years, were eager to be married, said the Rev. Julie Price, ministerial intern at the Fairfax congregation.
In Oklahoma, First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City hosted three weddings in the day immediately after the court’s announcement, and others are planned, said the Rev. Mark W. Christian. His congregation is “absolutely delighted” with this legal development. “We’re about the reddest of the red states, so to come in ahead of a number of places more progressive than Oklahoma is a surprise,” he said.
At Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Appleton, Wisc., the Rev. Leah Hart-Landsberg married several couples the day after the Supreme Court’s decision. “We’re just so happy here for this ruling,” said the Rev. Roger Bertschausen, senior minister.
The Appleton congregation is particularly excited to celebrate the wedding of two longtime members of the congregation, Miriam Douglass and Ligia Rivera, later this month, Bertschausen added. The couple has been together for 27 years and obtained a marriage license in June after a judge struck down Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage. However, they were unable to wed because the court’s decision was stayed before a required six-day waiting period after obtaining a license had passed, so they were left holding a piece of paper they couldn’t use. Nine other couples who had also received licenses in June and planned weddings at Fox Valley can now go forward, Bertschausen said.
The day after the Supreme Court decision, members of Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists in Williamsburg, Va., gathered to celebrate on the steps of the county courthouse, where the Rev. Jennifer Ryu met a couple whom she married a few days later.
“We are finally normalizing same-sex marriages,” said the Rev. Dr. Elaine Beth Peresluha, interim minister at First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, Wisc. “And because so many states now have marriage equality legislation, we’re at the tipping point.” Her church is offering free wedding ceremonies to same-sex couples on upcoming Saturdays.
Decision prompts new rulings in more states
To the disappointment of some supporters and opponents of marriage equality, the high court chose not to take up an appeal and rule directly on the legality of same-sex marriage. Instead, it refused to hear appeals from five states where federal courts had overturned same-sex marriage bans: Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Its announcement also affects six other states where those five appeals courts have jurisdiction: Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
But the legal activity this month didn’t end there. A few days after the Supreme Court’s announcement, a federal appeals court overturned marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, officials began issuing licenses to same-sex couples, and on October 10, one county in Kansas issued its first marriage license to a same-sex couple. On October 12, a federal judge struck down Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage. Arizona began issuing marriage licenses on October 17, following another federal judge’s ruling, and Wyoming’s ban fell later that day.
At the end of last week, same-sex couples could legally marry in 32 states and the District of Columbia.
Although there are still fifteen states where legal challenges are pending, most legal experts believe the fight for marriage equality has been won and that same-sex marriage will be legal in all 50 states before long.
As a result, many couples no longer feel an urgency to tie the knot, UU ministers are observing, in contrast to this past summer, when the legality of same-sex marriage in many states was in a volatile state—legal one day by court decision, then on hold the next as opponents appealed. That uncertainty led to a rush of same-sex weddings by UU ministers and others in Michigan and other states as couples raced to beat the clock.
“We now have people planning for weddings like straight couples, years and months in advance,” said Christian in Oklahoma City. “They’re not having to run out and get a license and execute it. I’m looking forward to the normalization of this.”
Olson Peebles agreed: “There’s not the rush there was before. Everyone feels this is going to last.”
Photograph (above): Jennifer Melsop, 26, left, and Erika Turner, 26, from Centreville, Va., embrace after they were officially pronounced married by the Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles, who officiated their marriage in front of the Arlington County Courthouse in Arlington, Va., Monday, Oct. 6, 2014 (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta).