SLO County gay-rights advocates cheer ruling on same-sex marriage

Charles Myers carries a rainbow flag at a rally on the steps of the San Luis Obispo courthouse Friday in support of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage.
Charles Myers carries a rainbow flag at a rally on the steps of the San Luis Obispo courthouse Friday in support of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

News of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision that the Constitution guarantees the right for same-sex couples to marry was a cause for celebration, and some tears, for members of San Luis Obispo County's LGBT community on Friday.

"There was just a feeling of elation," said Atascadero resident Dana Belmonte soon after the announcement. Belmonte and his husband, Steve Click, have been longtime advocates for gay rights, participating in marches and demonstrations throughout the country since the 1980s.

They were also the second same-sex couple to become officially married in San Luis Obispo County in June 2013, after the Supreme Court declined to decide a case California case, effectively allowing same-sex marriage in this state.

And Friday morning, the pair rejoiced when they turned on their TV and heard the historic news that the high court overturned marriage restrictions in Kentucky and three other states, declaring that “same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry” in all 50 states.

"Watching the celebrations and the spontaneous singing this morning, I got choked up — I still am," Belmonte said, his voice breaking. "It's real. Equality throughout the land."

The court’s 5-4 majority concluded the Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection ensures same-sex marriage rights.

“Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer joined Kennedy in the majority decision; Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

When he heard the news of the historic decision, Daniel Taylor, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of the Central Coast, said his first feeling was relief.

Though same-sex couples in California have been legally allowed to marry for close to two years, Taylor said many same-sex couples felt uneasy when they traveled to other states where their unions weren't legally recognized.

The Supreme Court decision will ease that tension, he said.

"It's comforting to know that gay marriage is blessed in every state of the union," Taylor said. "This is the new status quo."

To mark the occasion, the Central Coast chapter of GALA is scheduled to hold a celebratory rally at the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse at 4:30 p.m. Friday.

"It's really an exciting time," Taylor said. "You never know how these things are going to turn out, but in this case, I think the court sided on the right side of history."

U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, whose 24th district includes San Luis Obispo County, hailed the court's decision in a statement issued shortly after the decision was announced.

“Today is a great day. The Court has ruled definitively on what we have known in our hearts all along — that all Americans should have the freedom to marry the person whom they love," Capps said. "Today’s ruling is another important step toward ensuring that no one in this country suffers discrimination because of their race, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. I applaud the court’s decision and send best wishes to the couples around the country who have finally gained this important right.”