La. reaction to gay marriage decision

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Legally married to her longtime partner in Canada in 2007, Kelly Bryson is talking about a second wedding — in the U.S. this time — after Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down a law denying federal benefits to married gay couples.

“My plan is for us to get married — I think New York does not have a residency requirement — to get married there and I absolutely think that the federal benefits will follow,” said Bryson.

The FBI agent in New Orleans spoke hours after the high court struck down a major portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act while clearing the way for the resumption of gay marriages in California.

Same-sex marriage and civil unions remain illegal in Louisiana. And the full implications of the decision were not entirely clear for people living outside the 13 states where gay marriage is recognized.

“Outside of these states, federal marriage benefits become more complicated, as many commonly thought-of federal benefits, such as jointly filing on federal income taxes, are tied to a married couple’s place of residence,” the National Conference of State Legislatures said in a news release.

Still, Bryson was cheered by the Supreme Court action and expects her benefits as a federal employee will be extended to her partner, Erica Knott, and their sons, ages 6 and 7, once the couple marries in the U.S.

John Hill, spokesman for Forum For Equality, which supports rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, said the group began discussions with attorneys Wednesday on what the law means in Louisiana and whether any federal rights denied in the state might someday be fodder for a new challenge to Louisiana’s gay marriage ban.

Meanwhile, the decision brought swift, sharp criticism from U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, who, as a state legislator, sponsored the amendment banning same-sex marriages and civil unions.

“It is a sad day when the same court that upheld Obamacare decides to reverse course on thousands of years of tradition and a strong bipartisan coalition in Congress by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act,” said Scalise, R-Jefferson. “This Supreme Court ruling marks a low point in judicial activism where unelected judges turned against traditional marriage which has been a hallmark of American society since our nation’s founding.”

“I believe every child deserves a mom and a dad. This opinion leaves the matter of marriage to the states where people can decide. In Louisiana, we will opt for traditional marriage,” Gov. Bobby Jindal said in an emailed statement. “How about we let the people decide for themselves, via their representatives and via referendum?”

Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative Christian organization, was pleased that neither decision by the court established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, saying it “refused to completely undermine traditional marriage throughout all 50 states, including Louisiana.”

“However,” the group’s statement added, “it is disturbing and perplexing that the court has ruled that the federal government has no right to affirm natural marriage.”

SarahJane Brady, executive director of Forum For Equality, acknowledged that the decision doesn’t legalize gay marriage in Louisiana. Still, she called the action “a massive victory.”

“I actually think I let out a holler when I saw it,” Brady said.

Bryson and Knott and their children attended an evening celebration that drew more than 200 people to Jackson Square in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Their children raised rainbow-adorned flags as a parade moved through the area.

Bryson said they tried to explain the significance of the Supreme Court’s decision to their sons but said they were too young to understand.

“They said it’s a parade about families that love one another and I said ‘That’s exactly what the parade’s about’,” she said.

On the fringe of the crowd, Mary Lasseigne poured champagne into a plastic cup for her friend Cindy Lopez, as they watched the festivities.

“It’s been a long time,” said Lasseigne, a bass guitar player and graduate student at Southern University of New Orleans.

“Obviously what happened doesn’t affect Louisiana,” Lopez said, “but it’s a great step for our gay sisters and brothers.”

“Eventually I hope Louisiana will get on board,” Lopez said.

Chad Boutte, who grew up in the central Louisiana town of Charenton but now lives in the French Quarter, danced to a brass band and carried a handmade sign that read, “Just Equality, Ya’ll, (That’s all).”

Boutte said he didn’t know anyone who was gay when he was growing up and hid the fact that he was gay until he was out of high school. He said he’s been living for 14 years with another man and said he had not expected Wednesday’s ruling.

“It’s going to open up doors. Now we have to make legalizing gay marriage in Louisiana a top priority,” Boutte said.

“While this is a joyous day for many married couples and families, Louisiana remains one of 37 states that still treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens and their children as unequal and second-class,” Forum For Equality said in a news release.

The amendment Scalise sponsored as a member of the Louisiana Legislature, before he was elected to Congress, was passed by 78 percent of those voting in a 2004 election.

Hill believes attitudes that prevailed then are changing, even in conservative Louisiana. He points to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted Feb. 8-12. The automated telephone poll of 603 Louisiana voters showed that, while 59 percent said same-sex marriage should not be allowed, 25 percent said it should, and another 29 percent said same-sex civil unions should be allowed.

The poll, which PPP said was not paid for by any campaign or political group, had a margin for error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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