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Louisiana Reacts To Court’s Gay Marriage Decisions

by Kevin McGill
Monday Jul 1, 2013

NEW ORLEANS - 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 Wednesday 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 benefits she has as a federal employee will be extended to her partner, Erica Knott, and their sons, ages 6 and 7, once they are married 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.

In contrast, 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."

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.

Gay rights organizations, including Forum For Equality, planned a celebration Wednesday evening in the French Quarter.

"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," the group 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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