Activists laud decision on gay marriage

It took Toni Weaver all morning to stop crying – though hers were tears of joy.

Early Wednesday, a close friend called to tell her the news she’d been waiting years to hear – the Supreme Court handed gay-rights advocates a major victory. In a 5-4 ruling, justices struck down a provision of a federal law denying benefits to married gay couples and cleared the way for the resumption of same-sex marriage in California.

“When I got the news, and any time I tried to talk about it, I burst into tears. I’m so thrilled, overjoyed,” Weaver said. “When the highest court in our land rules in favor of equality, this is a momentous day.”

As the mother of a son who is gay and the leader of a local chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Weaver has been waiting a long time for Wednesday’s landmark decision.

“The law now recognizes that these loving relationships are as valid as the relationship my husband and I have had for 43 years,” said Weaver, whose wedding anniversary, coincidentally, falls on that of the Stonewall riots, which sparked the modern gay-rights movement.

The high court decision wiped away a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, meaning legally married same-sex couples will get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.

The DOMA ruling affects same-sex couples who were legally married in other states and live in Illinois, a number that’s not officially tracked but advocates estimate is in the thousands.

In a separate, narrower decision, the court also paved the way for same-sex marriage in California by holding that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. That outcome probably will allow state officials to order the resumption of same-sex weddings in the nation’s most populous state in about a month.

In a written statement, Catholic Bishop of the Rockford Diocese David J. Malloy said he was disappointed in the outcome of the federal marriage case and called the ruling “a tremendous misstep for the direction of our country.” Catholic teaching holds that marriage is between a man and a woman.

“While this ruling may seem to open the door to further acceptance of a definition of marriage that is contrary to natural law, it does not change our freedom to disagree,” he said. “It cannot and will not ever change what is written in our faith and in our human design. … Our moral compass is set by a higher power than that of any court.”

Same-sex marriage has been adopted by 12 states and the District of Columbia. Massachusetts was the first state to allow gay couples to marry, in 2004.

When same-sex unions resume in California, there will be 13 states representing 30 percent of the U.S. population where gay marriage is legal. The 11 others are Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Illinois allowed civil unions in 2011, but efforts were halted earlier this year when lawmakers decided not to call the matter for a vote. The sponsor of the measure, Democratic state Rep. Greg Harris, said he simply didn’t have the votes needed in the Illinois House.

Weaver, who also is president of PFLAG’s Northern Illinois Council, said she hopes the ruling will signal a changing tide, one that state lawmakers will notice.

“The hope is that between now and when the [Illinois] General Assembly reconvenes, that this ruling today will make a significant difference on the part of those members of the Illinois House,” Weaver said. “That they will have a change of mind, that they will have a change of heart and will cast a ‘yes’ vote.

“We made a huge step, but not the fight is not over.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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