Gay-marriage supporters upbeat after Supreme Court arguments

March 27, 2013|By Brian Bennett and Wes Venteicher | This post has been corrected, as indicated below.

WASHINGTON -- Lawyers arguing that the Supreme Court should overturn the Defense of Marriage Act appeared buoyant after presenting their case on Wednesday.

"We are hopeful they will" overturn the law, said Roberta Kaplan, who argued the case in front of the nine justices on behalf of Edith Windsor, the 83-year-old lesbian widow who brought the lawsuit challenging the federal law.

Windsor, whose marriage to her longtime partner was recognized by New York, argued that the government discriminated against her when she was required to pay a higher estate tax bill than a married couple, after the death of her spouse in 2009.

"I think everyone agrees that Edie Windsor gets her money back," Kaplan said.

Gay-marriage proponents erupted in cheers when Windsor walked down the Supreme Court steps.

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Windsor said she felt "uplifted" and "humbled" to hear the justices quiz lawyers about her case. "The federal government treated us like strangers," Windsor said about how the Internal Revenue Service viewed her marriage to a woman. Wearing a gray suit and a pink silk scarf, Windsor had pinned to her lapel a circular diamond brooch she said she has worn more than four decades as a symbol of their relationship.

She said she was optimistic that the justices would overturn the law. "I think it's gonna be good" she said as supporters gathered at the court steps and chanted, "Edie, Edie, Edie!"

Representatives for the defenders of the Defense of Marriage Act indicated that they were disappointed in the positions some of the justices seemed to take against the law.

"I have to be realistic," said Rev. Robert L. Schenck, chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance, a group that filed a brief in the case and represents about 3,000 clergy members and more than 200 military clergy. "A strong case was made against DOMA," he said.

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Schenck said he is concerned that military chaplains and other clergy could be required to recognize same-sex unions if the law is struck down. That could violate their religious freedom, he said.

If you believe marriage is between a man and a woman, he said, "it is quite clear that that definition at a federal level is at risk," he said.

Paul Clement, who was solicitor general under President George W. Bush, argued the case on behalf of the Bipartisan Legal Advocacy Group, paid by the House Republican leadership. Clement did not speak with reporters gathered on the court steps immediately after the session.

"Maybe he's demoralized," Schenck said.

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Observers filed out of the court after the arguments, many weary from waiting in line for days for a chance to view the proceedings.

Though he admitted to slapping himself a couple times to stay awake, Joey Williamson, a gay man from New York who had camped in line since Sunday, said the arguments contained some "intriguing dialogue."

He said the arguments did not leave him optimistic of an expansive ruling. "It seems like it's opening an option to kick it to the legislature or a lower court, but I'm not an attorney so I don't know," he said.

Karl Jablonowski, who is not gay but supports gay marriage and had waited since 3 a.m. to hear the arguments, said the experience of exiting the chamber was powerful. He described descending into a crowd of thousands of brightly dressed gay-marriage supporters.

"It's pretty emotional to come down and see all the flags flying," Jablonowski said, adding that he could hear the cheers from inside the court. "They just want basic human rights."

[For the Record, 12:58 p.m. PSTĀ  March 27: An earlier version of this post misspelled Joey Williamson's last name as "Williams."]

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