In Columbia, hope and concern after same-sex marriage decisions

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 | 11:08 p.m. CDT; updated 10:53 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 27, 2013
Phylshawn Johnson, left, plays the first song she ever wrote on the piano for her fiance, Violet Vonder Haar, as they spend the evening with Vonder Haar's family Wednesday. Both are private music teachers and play multiple instruments. They plan to marry in October.

COLUMBIA — When musician and music teacher Violet Vonder Haar heard the news, she started crying. She got into her car and drove to tell her fiancée that their upcoming marriage would be recognized by the federal government.

Vonder Haar and her fiancée, Phylshawn Johnson, have been together for 2 1/2  years and plan on getting married Oct. 12. Even though Vonder Haar was jubilant about the decision, she was less optimistic about the potential federal benefits she could receive.

Missouri politicians' views on marriage ruling

Republican Sen. Roy Blunt

"Senator Blunt is a long-time supporter of the Defense of Marriage Act. He is disappointed in this decision, and he hopes Americans will continue this important debate and will focus again on what an indispensable building block traditional marriage is for society,” Amber Marchand, spokeswoman for Blunt, said in an email.

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill

“A conservative Supreme Court today recognized what my kids, and an increasing number of Americans, already consider common sense — that the federal government shouldn’t refuse to recognize marriages that individual states have said are lawful. All Americans, gay and straight, should be allowed to fully participate in this most basic of family values, and today, our great country is another step closer to achieving that equality under the law.”

Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler

“Today the court got it wrong. The activist ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act ignored the votes of a bipartisan majority of Congress. This alarming precedent disempowers Congress from making national policy with respect to marriage. We must work to defend the rights of Americans to make marriage policy.”

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"Honestly, a lot of it doesn't affect me unless Missourians decide to allow gay marriage," she said. "I feel like there's just now a heightened awareness of the discrimination that happens. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled on it, it sets a higher precedent."

The Supreme Court gave a victory to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community Wednesday by deciding that the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that prevents federal benefits from going to same-sex couples was unconstitutional. It also allowed a trial court's 2010 ruling that overturned California’s Proposition 8 to stand based on a technicality, saying nothing about its constitutionality. This means that Missouri’s 2004 amendment banning same-sex marriage would not be affected by the court's ruling.

Both rulings were 5-4 decisions, which had gay-rights activists celebrating across the country. While the ruling on Prop. 8 didn’t prohibit bans on same-sex marriage, same-sex couples in Columbia celebrated the ruling on DOMA.  

Each morning, Kent Moore turns on the "Today" show out of habit. On Wednesday, he happened to tune in just as the Supreme Court announced its decision.

"“I was actually watching as the decision came down,” Moore said. “It’s a huge mark in gay history. Just 30 years ago, being gay was considered a mental illness. Ten years ago, it was illegal to be in a physical relationship.”

Although Moore isn’t married to his partner, he said the DOMA decision is a step forward in allowing couples to receive federal recognition.

“It’s rather huge, even though I’m not married and have no plans to be,” Moore said. “Unless they get gay marriage in Las Vegas, which would be awesome.”

Struby Struble, the coordinator for the MU LGBTQ Resource Center, said that the ruling was as pro-LGBT rights as possible. She also talked about the implications for local couples.

“It has really true personal implications at MU, in Columbia and in Missouri,” Struble said. “You leave a place that you’re not respected in. The coordinator before me left so that he and his partner could get married and adopt kids.”

Certain implications of the ruling are still uncertain. Some of the federal benefits will depend on where the couple lives instead of where they were married. If a couple married in Iowa, a state where same-sex marriage is legal, and moved to a state like Missouri that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, that couple may be ineligible for some benefits such as Social Security survivor benefits, according to an Associated Press article.

Benefits that same-sex couples could receive in Washington, D.C., and the 12 states that have legalized same-sex marriage could lead to couples leaving states that ban the recognition of same-sex marriage. While there is temptation for Vonder Haar to leave and get better federal benefits, she said that her heart is in mid-Missouri.

Struble said the DOMA ruling will weigh in her decision whether she and her partner decide to get married because now there are real benefits to the marriage that will affect their daily lives instead of only symbolic benefits.

“I think the economics will affect us every day,” she said. “By being on each other's health insurance, my partner and I will have enough money to go on vacation. That’s a day-to-day thing."

Other economic benefits in states where same-sex marriage is legal include filing joint taxes, inheritance laws and Social Security, Struble said.

While the economic benefit is nice to have, Struble said the largest benefit provided by the ruling was the cultural impact it had on LGBT rights. Marriage, Struble said, is a large cultural institution that same-sex couples now have a right to on a federal level. Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the majority opinion for the DOMA case voiced a similar opinion in saying that DOMA’s “principal purpose is to impose inequality.”

While excited about the overturning of DOMA, Alfredo Mubarah, who has been in a relationship with Beau Aero for four years, is concerned that not much will change in Missouri because of the same-sex marriage ban. 

“Yes, let’s talk about benefits, but let’s also talk about basic rights, even more basic than benefits, like not getting fired from your job for being gay" in Missouri, he said.

Mubarah said that even though enough hasn’t been done, it is still undeniably “a historic day, not only for the LGBT community, but for the country.”

SoCo Club bartender Tyler Leslie, who served in the military under "don’t ask, don’t tell" and kept his sexuality a secret to avoid being discharged, called DOMA’s repeal exciting because it came so quickly after the 2011 repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell."

DOMA "is one of the things that’s a step before we all become equal,” Leslie said. “People are realizing we’re not all as equal as we think we are.”

Gus Hern, a co-worker of Leslie’s, called the DOMA ruling a victory for not only the gay community, but also the straight majority.

“I’m straight, and I feel that gays should have the same rights as anyone,” Hern said. “They’re also human.”

Supervising editor is Hannah Wiese.

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